Category Archives: food

Monthly, Forever

It’s not that I’m a stranger to subscriptions. I started getting magazine subscriptions when I was a teen and began receiving them for Christmas presents when our family finances were impacted by my father’s illness. I chose astronomy and science fiction magazines. My parents didn’t subscribe to magazines much, except for Reader’s Digest and their condensed books.

I also dabbled in record subscriptions, back in the day when they sent actual vinyl records that had every chance of arriving with scratches and warps. (I don’t know if music subscriptions went to tapes, 8-tracks, CDs, or downloads after that. I do have a couple of subscriptions on Patreon and at least one of them supplies me with music every month, but otherwise, I get all my music via the internet. Not that I download much. I already have nearly 670 albums stored on my music app (formerly called iTunes). But I digress.)

Later on, once I was married, I found a pet store in town that offered a “Fish of the Month” club. (For some unknown reason, we referred to it as “Fish ala Month,” although they weren’t, of course, edible. Another digression.) Dan had a fish tank at the time and enjoyed going to the store every month to see what new species of fish was on offer that month. I kept up the subscription until the pet store went out of business. This was back in the days when there were still locally owned pet shops.

Since that time, the idea of subscriptions has blossomed. You can now get blossoms that arrive every month and can be given as gifts. Not just flowers, either. I once gave my therapist a small succulent as a gift and have ever after been pursued to upgrade to a succulent subscription.

Nor are plants the only subscriptions on offer. You can get quarterly subscriptions to goods from Ireland, including food, snacks, and jewelry. You can subscribe to puzzles, either jigsaws or more elaborate ones that require solving a mystery. Other “surprise” subscriptions where you don’t know what you’re getting are for children’s toys (or dog toys), foods from different regions of the country, rare coffees, discount wines, Asian snacks, cocktail mixers (and liquor, if you choose that option), cheese of the month or charcuterie kits (including vegan and gluten-free), cookie dough, pasta, spices or hot sauces, candy, tea, beauty items or perfumes, detox products, vacation souvenirs, earrings or necklaces, socks-of-the-month, replicas of historical documents, dried flower arrangements, candles, and pet foods and supplies.

Some of the subscriptions available leave me befuddled. One is underwear. I buy new bras and panties when my old ones are no longer serviceable. But I don’t subscribe. I go to Jockey, Fruit of the Loom, or another source and order what I need. I can’t imagine avidly anticipating the arrival of three new panties or bra-and-panties sets every month. (Besides, I never wear matching bras and panties. Every victim of a serial killer you see on TV shows is wearing matching lacy undergarments. I figure I’m a lot safer if I were a purple-polka-dot bra and simple green panties. But I digress some more.)

Other subscriptions I don’t understand are oysters-of-the-month (ick!) and monthly sex toys and books (although if they’re delivered in plain brown wrappers, they will spare you embarrassment and make a visit to the local sex shop unnecessary).

The really strange subscription I came across during my research for this post was playable musical postcards, something previously unimaginable to me. Evidently, the postcards from different lands are made of vinyl and can be played on a turntable. (There is an option to receive only a postcard and an online download of a song if you don’t possess a turntable.) The tunes are from indie artists, so you don’t need to worry about getting Mariah Carey in your December mail.

Will I get another subscription to something-or-other? I think not. I already have subscriptions to TV streaming channels. I have Patreon subscriptions to support my friends’ art. I have subscriptions to Archaeology and Smithsonian magazines (offline versions) for my husband. I subscribe to the New York Times crossword puzzles. I probably have a few other subscriptions that I’ve forgotten about and ought to cancel.

But I am tempted by the solve-a-mystery and cheese-of-the-month subscription, though only if I can specify cheeses that don’t advertise the fact that they’re made of mold. I figure that anything the postal workers can smell is a bad idea, even if it’s only once a month.

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In the Kitchen 2.0

I watch way too much Food Network. I’ve only ever tried to make two recipes I learned there and one was really only a theory, not an actual recipe. The actual recipe I tried was Ina Garten’s Triple Ginger Cookies. (I learned that when Ina says “jumbo eggs,” she means jumbo eggs.) The theory was Bobby Flay’s Tangerine Turkey, which I adapted to use orange juice instead of tangerine.

(Bobby Flay is so predictable. No matter what he cooks, he always includes one or more of his favorite ingredients. In addition to the tangerine juice, he invariably includes Calabrian chiles, pomegranate molasses, and either bourbon or tequila. Sometimes even when he’s making dessert. I don’t know why they even bother to have a blind tasting on Beat Bobby Flay. But I digress.)

But, even as Flay never changes, lots of changes do occur in the cooking world – all manner of trends come and go. For a while in the 70s, everyone who got married received a fondue pot. Later, the trend was blackened everything, which meant either burnt or way too spicy. Now we have pumpkin spice everything. Though with nearly everyone hating on it, it may not last for much longer.

But there are other trends in food and cooking, and the times, they are a’changing. What do we have now?

I’m glad you asked. We have bacon on everything. Avocado toast. Salted caramel. Poached eggs. Cauliflower. And, apparently, buttered saltines.

Bacon is such a trend that it appears everywhere. Strawberry-bacon crepes. Garnish for a Bloody Mary. I can’t say whether this is a recent trend. It feels like it’s gone on forever. Today I heard that men’s second favorite thing, apart from sex, was not beer but bacon. (I just had a brilliant idea for a new flavor of edible panties. But I digress some more.)

Avocado toast has a rep for being the chosen chow of hipsters. Although I have no objection to it (I love avocados and have eaten many a slice of toast), I’m not sure what’s so exciting about guacamole on bread. Though you do eat guacamole with chips, and that’s another grain product.

Salted caramel is something I heartily approve of, and I hope it stays in vogue for many, many years. I wouldn’t have thought just from hearing the name that it would be good, but I love caramel and was willing to try a new version of it. Now I’m hooked. Makes me wonder what other candies would be improved by salt. Chocolate? Butterscotch? Peppermints? No, probably not, though someone is bound to try it sooner or later.

Poached eggs are appearing everywhere, especially on sandwiches. The idea is to rupture the egg when you chomp into the sandwich so the yolk becomes some kind of marvelous sauce. The chefs describe it as “unctuous,” which I have always associated with “oleaginous,” loosely translated as “smarmy,” something I don’t want my sandwiches to be. I once ate a burger with a poached egg and it unctuoused all over my sweater. I was not a happy chomper.

Cauliflower came around with the advent of the gluten-free movement. As I understand it, gluten-free food is really beneficial only if you have celiac disease, but that doesn’t stop every Tom, Dick, and Harriet from swearing by it. And everyone who likes gluten in their mac-n-cheese, pizza crust, and rice pilaf swearing at it.

As for buttered saltines, I just learned this week that this was a thing. Personally, I don’t think it sounds very exciting, not the way bread and butter is.

Celebrity chefs are responsible for a lot of other kitchen trends, not necessarily associated with food. Take clogs, for example (specifically Crocs). I recently read a whole article on this – I think it was in the LA Times. Apparently, Crocs are valued for their non-slip soles and their ease of cleaning up after spaghetti sauce spills on them. But I’ve noticed that celebrity TV chefs are now wearing fancy sneakers – brightly colored or sequined ones. I don’t know how well they stand up under bolognese, but I guess if you’re a celebrity chef, you can always buy new ones.

Even kitchen equipment has changed. It used to be that no self-respecting chef would go anywhere without their squeeze bottles, the kind that used to hold ketchup and mustard in diners. They were used to decorate plates (and food) with dots, spirals, and squiggles of whatever sauce was on the menu. (Old joke: “Do you have everything on the menu?” “Yes, what would you like?” “A clean menu.”)

Nowadays, chefs have paintbrushes to put a swoosh of sauce on the plate for the food to rest on. If they can’t afford paintbrushes, they make a swoop with the back of a spoon. Which is all well and wonderful, but you can’t write Happy Birthday in chocolate on a plate if you’re using a spoon or a paintbrush. (Unless it’s a wee tiny one.)

When I was in college, there was a class called Food Facts and Fads. I never took it, so I don’t really know, but I think the fads they were talking about were extreme diets. Personally, I say to heck with the fad diets! Bring on the salted caramels!

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Fall In!

One time I was interviewed on TV. My husband and I were at the Arboretum, chilling and talking to another nature-lover. A disgusted-looking reporter approached us and said that he was doing a segment on the first day of fall. (No doubt that was why he looked disgusted.) He asked us about our thoughts regarding fall. The nature-lover gave the standard answer about the color of fall leaves.

Dan and I were not so predictable. He said fall made him sad because he couldn’t plant flowers anymore. I said that I always thought of September as the first month of school and that I had mixed feelings because I was no longer in education. The reporter looked even more disgusted, packed up, and went away. When we watched the news, we discovered that we were the only people he interviewed.

(The next day I told my boss that I had been on TV. “The bank robbery?” he said. He had a dry sense of humor, which I loved. But I digress.)

I actually do have mixed feelings about fall, in addition to the education thing. The fall colors are beautiful, though they’re really only impressive when weather conditions during the summer are perfect. And this year, they were far from perfect.

Then there’s Halloween. I’ve written before about how much I dislike it (https://butidigress.blog/2019/10/27/halloween-bah-humbug/). For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest Condensed version, I hate handing out candy. There’s the lack of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, the amount of leftover candy we have as a consequence, and the door-darting cat. There are also the Halloween episodes of nearly every TV show, although they’re not as annoying as the Christmas episodes of every show. There’s no Halloween music except for “Monster Mash,” which gets played ad nauseum. This year, I plan to hide in the bedroom at the back of the house with the lights off (including the porch light) and read by the light of my e-reader.

One thing I do love about the fall is pumpkin and specifically pumpkin pie spice. I’m not one of those who hates on pumpkin pie spice lattes and similar inventions. I seldom drink coffee, so I’m not usually around those. No, what I love are the actual spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. I love the smell of them. I love the taste of them. I love them so much that I’m often disappointed by the small amount of them that most people use in their pumpkin pie. We’ve tried to make our own. This year I’m even going to look up a recipe.

(I saw a recipe online for two-ingredient pumpkin muffins – spice cake mix and canned pumpkin. Of course, I’d have to bump up the spices. I always do when I make my own spice cake. But I digress again.)

Another thing I love about fall is the clothing. Sweaters. I have a large collection of sweaters, including those knee-length cardigans that are probably out of style now, not that I care. I also have a number of sweatshirts and cozy lap blankets. Flannel pajamas, too. I love wrapping up in them. It’s like a fabric hug.

I can’t say I love the Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but I usually watch it just for the line about never discussing politics, religion, or the Great Pumpkin. I do, however, love the pumpkins Calvin carves in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. And the Wallace and Grommit animated movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And Young Frankenstein. I can even take it when Dan binge-watches The Addams Family.

Of course, when it comes to things I really like about autumn, I recently saw a sweatshirt that says, “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy.” I may just have to get that.

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Adventures in Ireland, Part Two: The Good Parts

Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.

Newgrange. We saw the outside, but not the inside.

In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.

Here’s a picture of the Giant’s Causeway, which we didn’t actually get to see. This is a stock photo.

(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)

After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.

Off to Arranmore Island.

One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)

In a welcoming pub on Arranmore Island.

We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.

Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.

Scene from The Quiet Man, immortalized.

(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)

Dan busking at the Cliffs of Moher. (The real busker is observing him.)

The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.

Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.

At Bunratty.

I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)

Dingle’s harbor.

Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).

Uragh Stone Circle on a misty day.

We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.

The view from the window of our last swanky hotel room in Athlone.

Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.

Graveyard at Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.

Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.

The distillery where my favorite whiskey is made. We took the tasting tour. (Of course we did!)

But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)

Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.

Sean’s Bar and the antiques shop. You can tell which one impressed Dan the most.

Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)

That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.

We’re already talking about saving up to go back.

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Oatmobile, Not Oldsmobile!

A friend of mine, while being driven home after a colonoscopy, remarked, “When I get home, I know what I want to have – a bowl of oatmobile. No, oatmobile. Damn it, you know what I mean – oatmobile.” (They were driving a Toyota, not an Oldsmobile. But I digress.) All of us had a good laugh about it then and for many years to come. My husband and I still say “oatmobile.”

The reason I bring this up is that I, too, am on a diet of oatmobile. And yogurt. And Jell-O. And pudding. And chocolate milk. None of these are amusing or pronounced in humorous ways, unless you count what my husband and I sometimes call “beef brof,” which I am also having a lot of.

As you may guess, this is because I recently lost a number of teeth. No, not in a rowdy bar brawl (though that’s the entertaining story I will probably tell people). I had quite a number of teeth extracted. My teeth were never good, my parents having been unable to afford orthodontia, and over the years, they have steadily gotten worse.

I had IV sedation for the extraction, or I wouldn’t have been able to get near the dentist’s office. I have severe dental-phobia, another reason that my teeth needed this kind of attention. The only person with worse dental-phobia than mine is my sister, who once cleared an entire room of prospective patients by screaming loud and long before the dentist even gave her Novocaine.

So, the IV sedation. Before the process started, I checked to make sure they had backup oxygen available, and that I wasn’t in procedure room eight. (I’ve seen Coma one too many times.) I was extra-nervous, too, as I hadn’t been allowed to take my Ativan the night before or the day of, in case it interfered with the sedation.

They did give me nitrous oxide, which has no effect on me. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist said, “Bubble gum or cotton candy?” I gave her the “You’re from Mars and have two heads” look. Then I learned that scented nitrous oxide existed (or perhaps scented nose cones). Ordinarily, they offered these options to children. Perhaps I was acting childishly. I chose “toothpaste,” which was at least minty.

Then they had to choose a vein for the sedation. My veins are notorious for rolling around when trying to be stabbed. I probably would be too. It turned out the IV infiltrated and I went home with a large purple lump in my elbow. It’s not entirely gone yet.

Because of COVID restrictions, Dan wasn’t able to come into the treatment room with me, which he usually does, being my Emotional Support Animal. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to come into the building. For two hours, he sat outside in the car, reading and napping, until finally the hygienist brought out wobbly me and gave him several sheets of directions on aftercare. The rest of the day is a blur. A painful, drooling blur.

Tonight he has promised me a dinner fit for an invalid – turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, and ice cream – all baby food except the ice cream. He does realize that the baby food will need some doctoring, such as salt, pepper, cinnamon, maybe garlic, and perhaps other herbs and spices, to be palatable.

I swear, when this is over, I’m going to Red Robin and order their biggest, juiciest burger and their bottomless fries.

I’ll pass on my usual milkshake, though.

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The Fisher in Go-Go Boots

This is my maternal grandmother, Winnie Rose.

We visited her less often than my Kentucky relatives because she lived in Florida. In fact, my first airplane flight was a trip to see her. To give you an idea how long ago that was, DisneyWorld was not yet built, though there was a Visitor Center with a 3D model of how it might look someday. (I didn’t make it to DisneyWorld until I was an adult, when I went with some friends. But I digress.)

Grandma Rose loved fishing and handed down her love of it to my mother. In her old age, my mother took to fishing at local ponds with her church friends or at the city’s recreational center’s pond. She brought home her catch and fried it, unless the pond was labeled “catch and release.” These fresh fish meals disturbed my husband who, despite his occasional desire to be a mountain man, hated to eat any animal that he saw caught or killed.

Once when we visited Grandma, we all went deep-sea fishing. I don’t remember catching anything, but Grandma caught a red snapper, which of course we ate, my husband not being on the scene yet. I wasn’t seasick while I was on the boat, but after I got back to land I was definitely woozy and wobbly.

Grandma also fished from a rowboat, and this solved a family argument. When we kids were teens, we desperately wanted go-go boots. (Remember those?) Our parents wouldn’t get them for us, claiming that they didn’t give enough ankle support, which we thought was just a pretext. Then we learned that Grandma had go-go boots for fishing, as they were exactly the right height to keep water from sloshing inside. Needless to say, we got our go-go boots after all.

Once while we were visiting Grandma Rose, I dipped into her library. There I found mystery books – I particularly remember Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie. My fascination with these books turned into a lifelong love of mysteries, from Robert Parker to Aaron Elkins to Sue Grafton to Sara Paretsky and many, many others. If there’s a mystery gene, I got it, though it skipped a generation. I also got the crossword and Scrabble genes from Grandma.

One of Grandma’s other hobbies was knitting. She knit fabulous sweaters for the family, all with a little tag inside that said “Made especially for you by Grandma Rose.” There the gene bred true. My mother took up crochet and I did needlepoint and Bargello, plus those awful hooked rug kits.

And lest you think that she was sedentary, in her youth she rode horses. Her other love was bowling. On bowling days, she ate a hearty breakfast of Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. It must have worked, because she had dozens of bowling trophies, patches, and other memorabilia. In fact, she went bowling in her 90s, the week before she died.

As you can see from the picture, Grandma Rose had gorgeous, snow-white hair, which used to be naturally red, until her husband died, killed by a drunk driver. After he died, she no longer kept up the red color that he had loved. If I had been born with red hair, instead of acquiring it later, I would have been named Winnie.

Occasionally, Grandma would visit us in Ohio. There was a spare bedroom that we always referred to as Grandma’s room (though it would have made more sense to use it so my sister and I could sleep in separate rooms, at least when we got old enough to fight).

I wish we had lived closer together so that I could have spent more time with her, sharing our mutual hobbies. But I’m glad this picture survived so that I can remember her as I knew her – an active, creative woman who raised lovely flowers, plus three boys and one girl, my mother.

A Window, Biscuits, a Butter Churn, and a Mule

It was an ordinary farmhouse, located outside Beattyville, Kentucky. But there was a secret inside that we kids loved. The kitchen, of course, was the best room to be in. But getting there was even more fun. The kitchen was obviously an add-on to the house, and the entry points to it included not just a door but a window, leading from one of the bedrooms to the kitchen. Of course, we never used the door like the grownups did.

The house belonged to our Cousins Addie and Jim Mainous. They were old even when we used to visit them during the summers. But every day, Cousin Addie hand-made biscuits and sawmill gravy. (Sawmill gravy is different from redeye gravy. Sawmill gravy uses milk. Redeye gravy uses coffee. But I digress.) The kitchen was painted black, but there was lots of sunshine coming in the windows and the back door. It wasn’t at all gloomy. It was warm and cozy and smelled like the biscuits that were rolled out with a drinking glass and cut to size using the mouth of the same glass.

Addie was a thin woman with a big laugh, who almost never wore her dentures. All I remember ever seeing her wear were dark cotton dresses and white aprons. Cousin Jim always seemed to be sitting at the kitchen table, not talking but drinking coffee and eating biscuits and gravy. We kids used to make butter in the authentic churn, which would now be an expensive antique.

In the living room, we found old paper or cardboard fans that were printed with the names of churches and funeral homes. The beds we slept in were much taller than those we were used to, which made climbing into them a workout. Just beside the house was a kitchen garden, which was endlessly diverting. We pulled up carrots and potatoes (which were usually not full-grown yet).

A little ways from the house was a barn, and it was the site of many adventures. There was a hayloft that contained bales of straw (not hay), but we were too young and timid to jump from it, as kids always do in the movies. There was also a fascinating old iron machine that took the kernels off the cobs of dried corn. We loved using it, though it turned out later that the corn cobs were meant to be left whole. There was also a mule, which I once got to ride bareback. Here’s some advice: Never ride a mule bareback. Their spines are very bony.

Across the road from the farmhouse was a hill that led to an ancient family cemetery. It made a nice walk to swing on the gate across the path and trek up there. I don’t know for sure, but I like to think of Addie and Jim being buried there and not in some huge cemetery far from their home.

Just a ways down the road, there was a drive-in theater, which we could see from the screened-in back porch. It was fun to watch the movies, especially the cartoons, even with no sound. Another nearby attraction was Natural Bridge State Park. There was an impressive lodge that we never stayed in, but where we could buy that sugary white candy that seems mostly made of air and dissolves in your mouth. We took pictures of each other standing under the bridge, though I don’t have them anymore.

If Beattyville had a town center, we never saw it. Down the road from the farm was a small gas station owned by Ollie Dooley, a more distant relative, but you couldn’t really say it was in a populated area. The areas we got to see were in the hill country of Kentucky, which we called “the mountains,” though they were nothing like the mountains they have out west. These were sometimes steep, rolling mountains, grassy and rocky, full of minerals.

Fracking didn’t exist back then, and I am glad. I’m sure the old farmhouse and barn are gone now. They were old when we visited them, and they can’t have survived or been rebuilt. And no one today would want a house with a black kitchen that you could enter through a window from the bedroom.

More Kentucky Folks

Last week I wrote about Kentucky relatives on my father’s side of the family. This week’s reminiscences are of Kentucky folks on my mother’s side.

Our Uncle Sam (yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam, and an Aunt Jemima whom I never met) and Aunt June lived on a farm outside of Campton, Kentucky. We took the Bluegrass Parkway, which was then a toll road, to get there. Every summer, we vacationed there for a week or two, along with visiting other relatives in the area.

We often stayed a night in Campton, where my Aunt Thelma ran a small hotel (Roses’ Hotel) and general store right across from the town diner, which had much to recommend it, including jukebox access at every table, and a pinball machine. (Note: I have no idea whether Uncle Sam, Aunt June, and Aunt Thelma were actually my aunts and uncles. They could well have been second grand-uncles and great-grand-aunts twice removed, for all I know. The only titles we used for any relatives other than Granny (Coburn) and Grandma (Rose) were aunt, uncle, and cousin. But I digress.)

The general store was notable to us kids for having a wide assortment of penny candy where we could get root beer barrels, red hots, and Sugar Daddy pops. There were clothing and tools in the back, but we never made it farther than the candy counter.

Uncle Sam, down the road a ways, was a sharecropper. He owned the land where the house was, on one side of the road, and farmed the other side of the road for some other owner. He had cows and chickens and a horse. When I brought my then-fiance Dan to visit, he and Uncle Sam went off to bring in the cows. Dan, having no experience with cows, wandered along behind them with a stick, while Uncle Sam made polite conversation by pointing at various plants and asking, “Do they have those where you come from, Mr. Reily?”

Sam’s wife, Aunt June, was a round, comfy woman with bright, black eyes, who was at least part Native American. She was famous for her biscuits. Dan won her heart when, just before we left, he stuffed his pockets full of them.

We had, I would say, a strained relationship with the chickens. We would try to gather eggs for breakfast, but were never assertive enough to reach under the squawking and pecking fowl and collect the eggs. An adult had to be summoned for that. I was also mildly traumatized when I saw Aunt June wring a chicken’s neck for that night’s dinner, and I learned what the saying “like a chicken with its head cut off” really meant. I still ate the fried chicken, though.

The horse was another matter. We loved to ride it, but once when I was on its back, one of the farm dogs came yipping at its heels and the horse took off at what seemed to me great speed toward the barn door. The closed barn door. I bailed off sideways into the cornfield and the horse sensibly stopped when it got to the barn door. But for a moment, it was terrifying.

There was lots to do at Uncle Sam and Aunt June’s. There was a fishing pond. The path to the pond was lined with blackberry bushes and if we visited at the right time of year, we picked the berries on our way to the pond. I don’t remember catching any bluegills longer than about three inches, of which we enormously proud, but which were fed to the barn cats.

Another notable feature of the house was the plumbing, or the lack thereof. There was running water in the house for washing or cooking, but there was no inside toilet. Instead, we had to make do with the outhouse or, at night, with the “slop jar” under the bed. The bed was cozy with handmade quilts and it seemed a shame to leave their warmth to grab a flashlight to trudge to the outhouse.

Living along with Sam and June were our cousins, C.B. (Benny) and Betty Sue. C.B. was kind of a hellraiser and too old to be interested in young cousins, but Betty Sue, although among the shyest persons I’ve ever met, liked to hang around with us. Later in life, she became an attendant in a senior care facility.

The farm was a special place, with a traditional porch and rocking chairs. If it wasn’t too hot – and it often wasn’t, this being in the Kentucky hill country – we would sit and rock and drink lemonade from Mason jars.

Perhaps my memories of these idylls are why Dan and I choose to spend weekend getaways at a bed and breakfast called The Farm, where we get a small cabin with a porch and rocking chairs, beds with patchwork quilts, chickens and goats and rabbits that have the run of the barn and the yard, and huge country breakfasts. We’re going again this August, and I can’t wait.

Bacon, Eggs, and Salt

Once upon a time, bacon, eggs, and salt were thought to be bad for a person’s health. Now they’re all the rage in cooking. They come in all sizes and shapes and colors, and they go with everything from hash to steak to pizza.

Bacon, I think we all agree, is bad for us, but we love it anyway, and any way. And there are so many kinds of bacon to love, in addition to the regular kind that Mom used to make for breakfast. There is thick-cut bacon, slab bacon, turkey bacon, and varieties that sound like bacon but aren’t (Canadian bacon, which is really ham, and pork belly, which is bacon on steroids). Then there are the foreign kinds like pancetta and guanciale, which may not technically be bacon as they come from different parts of the pig, but serve much the same purpose in many recipes.

So, what do you do with your bacon? Make a sandwich of it (with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, please, on whole-wheat toast). Put it on a different sandwich such as a hamburger. Put it on pizza. Make it into jam. Candy it (or if you have Canadian bacon, pour maple syrup on it). Put it on a salad. Put it in an omelet. Drape an egg lovingly atop the crispy (not flabby, please) strips. Or go full Elvis and serve your bacon with peanut butter and bananas, on fried white bread.

There’s been some debate about eggs. For a long time, everyone ate as many as they wanted. Then suddenly they were bad for you. Then, no they weren’t. You didn’t have to avoid eggs anymore. What happened? Did the egg change? Did the human body change? No, apparently some dietary health commission somewhere changed.

Now the debate is how to use the egg, and the answer is as a sauce. No, not in a sauce, as the sauce. This is why you now see hamburgers and all manner of other sandwiches served with a fried egg – mostly sunny side up, but occasionally over easy – resting just under the top bun.

But, wait! (I hear you cry.) The minute you bite the sandwich, the egg will explode and run everywhere! Well, yes, that’s the idea. The egg yolk is the new ketchup or mayo for a burger. Voilà! It has become the sauce. Now you can use words like “unctuous” to describe it, if you want to be taken for a foodie.

Perfectly poached eggs (meaning runny) are used in this way too, or to top steaks, hash, stew, shakshuka, etc. Apparently, if they are sufficiently runny, they improve anything they touch. There is some debate on sunny-side-up eggs. Should they be served au naturel? Or cut out with little round cutters so that they fit more attractively on a biscuit (or whatever)? Personally, I don’t have an opinion, as long as the egg is cooked long enough that the white doesn’t look like snot. That’s ick, not unctuous.

“Farm-fresh” eggs are preferred if you want to get culinary. There are also quail eggs, if you want to get dainty, and emu eggs, which are dark teal and look like they’re going to hatch a dinosaur. “Scotch eggs” are soft-boiled eggs with sausage wrapped all around them and deep-fried. There’s some sort of trick to keeping the yolk unctuous and the sausage crisp, but I don’t know what it is.

And salt? I think we all know by now that salt intake is related to high blood pressure, which is a Bad Thing. But the problem with salt generally only comes up when you eat already-prepared foods like potato chips or cans of soup. Those are loaded with salt. Some ingredients, like cheese, also contain salt, but I think we can all agree that every food should come with too much cheese on it. If you avoid processed foods that contain salt, there is really no need to fear. No one adds enough salt to unprocessed food to be dangerous. Or at least we hope not.

There are, perhaps surprisingly, a number of different kinds of salt to experiment with. In addition to good ol’ table salt, there are salt substitutes (which taste metallic because guess what? There’s potassium in it); kosher salt, sea salt, finishing salt, flake salt, THC salt (in CA anyway), and even Himalayan pink salt. (I own a lamp made of a giant pink Himalayan salt nodule with a light inside. No, I don’t lick it. I will, however, lick salted caramel, enthusiastically. But I digress.)

If you watch as much foodie TV as I do, you quickly learn that when someone says, “Needs seasoning,” they mean, “Needs salt.” Seems everyone puts in enough pepper. And they never mean rosemary or chervil or cumin or garlic, which are also seasonings. No, they mean salt.

My husband used to be of the “Never put salt on anything” school of thought. Every night when he cooked dinner and asked how I liked it, I would invariably reply, “Needs salt.” He at last grudgingly admitted that some things, like mashed potatoes, really do need salt to taste the way they should. But usually, he uses Mrs. Dash as he tries to wean me off salt. It doesn’t always work. Some dishes just need seasoning.

A Gift for Mom

I remember what Mother’s Day was like when I was a kid. My sister and I always gave my mother perfume. Well, my dad bought it and my sister and I gave it to her. (We didn’t get much of an allowance back then.) We always got the same kind, a scent called Tigris. I rather think we got that one because it came in a cool bottle with a tiger-striped fuzzy cap. Now I don’t know if she liked it or even if she wore it much.

I wanted to learn about other people’s memories of Mother’s Day, so I asked my friends on Facebook what they gave their mothers. I also asked moms among my friends what were the best gifts they had ever received. I didn’t get many responses, but enough to establish a pattern.

In 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book about The Five Languages of Love, five ways that people can share love with one another. The book was originally intended for spouses or those in romantic relationships, but I thought I’d apply it to Mother’s Day.

The five “languages” are

• words of affirmation

• quality time

• physical touch

• acts of service

• gifts

In relationships, problems arise when two people don’t speak the same “language.” For example, one person would like quality time together, but the other thinks giving gifts is the way to express love. Or someone who would like words of affirmation but receives only physical touch.

What surprised me from my unscientific poll is that the persons who gave gifts were mostly children. Usually they had no money, or not enough to buy anything nice, so they relied on arts and crafts. Many a mother has received the venerable gift of a loomed potholder or the neighbor’s flowers. But many of the answers I received showed real thought and imagination.

One guy, for example, said, “I started sewing as a youngster. I once made an apron, though she didn’t wear them as a rule.” One mother particularly remembered – and still has – an acrostic poem that her child wrote and illustrated for her. (For those of you not familiar with it, an acrostic poem is one in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, in this case “MOTHER.”)

Many of the other gifts fell under the heading of quality time or acts of service. For quality time, the clear winner was the mom who remembered, “For me it was my daughter surprising me and showing up at my church plus spending the day with me. We’ve also gone to movies or gotten massages/pedicures together. Mostly just time spent together.”

One response spoke of both affirmation and a gift. This mom remembers, “It was the first Mother’s Day after my son moved to England. Honestly, I don’t remember what the gift was, but the fact that he remembered the day (it is on a different day in England) meant a lot to me.” She added, “Last year, he took the time, from England, to arrange for a delivery of Brock Masterson’s Mother’s Day quiche meal for me. That was above and beyond, I think.”

The categories of food and service overlapped at times. One former child remembers, “I made her breakfast in bed. Usually burnt crap.” I’m sure mom appreciated the thought, at any rate. Another idea was given by a guy who, as a teen, did “some extra chores so she could have a day off.” Another person responded, “We took her out to eat,” which if you think about it, combines quality time, act of service, and gift.

The most comprehensive, and most touching, came from a mom who said that the best Mothers Day gift she received was “All of them because they honored me in so many ways.”

No one mentioned expensive gifts, like jewelry. Gifts of touch were also seldom mentioned, though I suppose the mani/pedi would qualify. And I’m sure a lot of the gifts and remembrances were delivered with hugs and kisses.

This is not to say that moms settle for little, but that the little things are the most fondly remembered.