If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

First Times

I told Dee and the children a story the other day about the first time I ever saw snow, and Dee suggested I write about some of the important “first times” in my life. So here are some of my recollections, starting with the snow story.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw snow. My dad got me up one morning and dressed me in what, before then, had laughingly been called a “snow suit.” It was dark red, burgundy I guess, and itchy scratchy wool, probably a hand-me-down. Everyone traded children’s clothes back then, still do at our house. Dad carried me to the kitchen and Mother told me they had something to show me, outside. But first, I had to drink a cup of “hot water tea.” This tea is made by filling a cup nearly full with milk, then adding a little boiling water to warm it. Next, add a little honey or sugar to sweeten. It is nice on a cold, winter morning or at bedtime. So, I drank my tea and Dad carried me outside – and the whole world was white! In our backyard, the snow must have been 8 or 10 inches deep, totally unusual for our area. My great big dad showed me how to make snowballs and we tramped around the yard until I was soaking wet. Mother had been watching from the kitchen door. I have no idea where my brothers were but possibly across the street, playing with their friends, the Cook boys. Anything more than a few flurries is still cause for a holiday in our part of the south.

Equally unforgettable was the first time I had shrimp. We lived in Myrtle Beach for a short time, during World War II. One Sunday, after church, we drove down to Murrels Inlet, south of Myrtle Beach, going towards Georgetown. We enjoyed eating at a place called, Lee's Inlet Kitchen - and it's still there. The seafood is really fresh and delicious. My brother, Bob, was 16 or 17 and so grown up, I thought. I don’t remember what else was ordered but Bobby ordered a shrimp cocktail. He offered me a boiled shrimp and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever tasted! For the second shrimp of my life, he added a dab of cocktail sauce. It is still one of my favorite foods, just boiled, not fried.

Incidentally, few years ago, I was told another story about Lee’s.. It seems some friends were having dinner there one night when a drunk walked outside and peed up against the outside, front glass. Obviously, he thought it was opaque but, alas it was not as he tried to explain to the deputy who carried him off.

I have written before about my funny journey to become a good cook. The first beef roast I ever cooked was so tough we had to hack it into teeny pieces to swallow it. The sweet old butcher had tried to tell me how to cook it but later on I decided he knew next to nothing about cooking. My husband was part owner of seven grocery stores and, of course the employees were very nice to me. We took no discount for our groceries so I was on a tight budget. I’m sure the roast was either a shoulder or chuck and I didn’t know to cook the darn thing half a day! Nowadays, I can get any piece of meat tender but sure did learn the hard way. Of course I’ve graduated to better cuts and quality of meats.

Tony had a MA in banking and finance so his next job was in the Trust Dept. in the Augusta bank that is now part of SunTrust. Very soon, he became head of the Trust Department and later, President of Georgia Bankers, Trust Division. Not long after he went with the bank, his mother died. The next day, he’d gone to take care of some of her business when two nicely dressed, middle aged men came to my front door. I’d heard their names but not met them. They were the Chairman of the Board of the bank and the President. Later, they became good friends but that day, I was very pregnant and nervous. I’d had my mother in law in my home, nursing her for over two weeks. Then I’d pretty much spent the third week with her in the hospital, before she died. When the men and I sat down in the living room to chat, our young dog raced into the room and proceeded to do a large, smelly poop right in front of the guests. I just sat there but fortunately a neighbor came in and hauled the dog, poop and all, outside. [I told Michael this story and at the end I said “What was I supposed to do?” and he replied, eyes twinkling, “Offer them something to eat?!”]

Another funny “first” was the first time my mother heard Tony’s name. She was uneasy that he might be a foreigner. [Nope, he was Scotch-Irish and Welsh descent.] It turned out that he was the third son. On the way to the hospital to give birth, my mother in law said she’d only picked out girl’s names so panicked and tried to think of a boy’s name. About that time she looked out the car window and saw Anthony’s Pharmacy-- so Anthony was it. My Tony hated that story and insisted we name our son, Algernon, after Tony’s dad. I couldn’t call a child that name so put Bruce as his middle name. He was called Bruce until he went into the Army where they called him Al. Now just close family still call him Bruce.

I’ll always remember my first glimpse of England. I was a child during the second World War .I stayed glued to the big, old wood radio for all the news but for the music as well. I knew all the words to all the popular songs as well as the patriotic songs. I read everything I could find about the war. My parents didn’t object to anything I read. On my first trip to Germany, we drove up to Osteen, Belgium, making several stops along the way. There, we took the ferry over to England. When we were almost there, someone said, “ Look, there are the white cliffs of Dover.” We stood at the rail, as we approached, and I had big fat tears running down my face. In my mind I was hearing the old son, “There’ll be blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover. Tomorrow, just you wait and see.”

I knew something about war, although the war my generation fought in was Korea.

The first time I ever sang for the USO, for soldiers returned from the war, was a very emotional “first.” During my freshman year in college, I was a soloist with the UGA Men’s Glee Club. I was on voice scholarship but because I refused to major in music, the amount of money was quite small. I lived at home, in Atlanta, my two middle years of college. During my time back in Atlanta, I was invited to entertain in Army camps around the south. I worked for the Jewish U.S.O. Of course, this was volunteer work, no pay, but I worked very hard. Transportation, meals, and beds were furnished. We ate with the soldiers and stayed in guest quarters or nurse’s quarters, usually nice or at least comfortable. (When I say “we”, I am talking about my long time friend, Pat Ewalt. She played piano like an angel and we worked well together. The trips were always on weekends.)

Our first trip was to a Fort, in Alabama. Standing on a wood stage, outside, in Alabama summer heat, with the gnats, praying they wouldn’t fly into my mouth, was quite an experience. High heels and stockings added to the fun. That show was on Saturday but Sundays were the heartbreakers. The guys pushed the piano through the wards of the hospital so I was actually close, a few feet away, from the sick and injured soldiers. I quickly learned to say hello, pat a foot or hand, then move on. I learned on that trip that if I lingered, I grew emotional, then my throat closed and singing was very difficult. That trip was a learning experience and we were able to alter some of our programs to better fit the situation. There was often a dance on Saturday nights which we did not attend. Mostly girls from town came to the dances, we were told, but we were too tired to dance anyway. Somewhere in my jewelry box is a gold USO pin that I was presented.

Thinking about that particular experience still makes me emotional, all these years later, so I will close with that story.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cooking and Food Tips

I got to thinking the other day about the way I cook, and how it’s different from most folks. I taught myself to cook, with a lot of help. I have learned little tips and tricks over the years, and I thought it was time to share some more of my hard-won food expertise.

Limes - Keep fresh limes on hand. They make nearly everything taste better. Add juice to mayo to make it taste like home made and it is much safer.

Fruit salad - make a great dressing of sour cream, fresh lime juice, sugar to taste, leaving the dressing slightly tart. Wonderful on fresh fruit but also a mixture of canned, drained, pineapple, oranges etc.

Tartar Sauce- better than bought: Mix mayo, a little grated onion, and drained capers.

Horseradish Sauce - add a tiny bit of grated horseradish, a drop or two of lemon or lime juice, and a sprinkle of salt to sour cream. Taste carefully and adjust strength. I sometimes add a dash of Tobasco. This is so good with beef.

Dessert - Mother’s quick, showy dessert: Buy a round, angel food cake with the hole in the center. Place it on a pretty platter and enlarge the hole a little .Buy three pints of different colored ice cream or sherbet. When the table is cleared for dessert, bring out dessert plates and place next to the hostess. In the kitchen, empty the 3 pints of ice cream into the center of the cake. Serve at the table with a pretty pie or cake server, placing some ice cream on top of each slice of cake then sending it around to the guests. Try pineapple, lime and orange sherbet or chocolate, vanilla, and butter pecan ice creams with Cool Whip etc. I’ve never understood why but people always ooh and ah over this………

OR serve vanilla ice cream with Crème de Menthe as a topping.

Salad - Here’s an easy salad: place sliced tomatoes, sliced cukes, baby carrots, and whatever you like on salad plates. Pass a bowl of homemade Ranch Dressing, you know the kind you buy in a package and mix with buttermilk and mayo. It really is better than the bottled kind and can be made ahead. [If, like me, raw veggies no longer agree with you, try the above dressing over steamed or poached veggies like broccoli etc, just for something different.]

Fantastic rolls - I used to fix these when my kids were still home and they are good. Use a can of bought biscuits and about half a stick of butter, melted in a round cake or pie pan. Dip each biscuit in the butter on both sides, then fold in the middle like a Parker House roll. Squeeze all the biscuits into the pan so that they touch, best if crowded. They will look like a pan of homemade yeast rolls. They are good with sesame or poppy seeds on the top too but not everyone likes the seeds. Just bake by the directions on the biscuit can.
** The above “rolls” are delicious at breakfast, served with two or three selections of fruit preserves and good, hot coffee.

In the fall, when local, fresh apples are plentiful, make applesauce. Peel and quarter the apples and poach in just enough water to cover. I like to add the juice of half a lemon or more, depending on the amount of apples. Gently simmer, uncovered, until they are soft enough to kind of squish up. They can have a few lumps. While the apples are hot, stir in enough sugar to give a good flavor. You can add whatever spices your family likes. We’ve used cinnamon, cloves etc. It is better not to drain the good juice from the apples so use as little water as possible and allow it to “cook down.” My parents made this and I made it for my family.

** The above applesauce can also be used to make fried pies. Use a rolling pin [or wine bottle] to roll out and flatten bought biscuits. Fill with about a tablespoon of fruit, and Fold in half, crimp the edges with the tines of a fork, place in a skillet of hot oil or Crisco. Cook til light brown on one side, turn and cook other side, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with sugar if desired. I suppose you could use vegetable oil but Crisco is best. If you are in the mood to sin, use homemade pie pastry, or store bought piecrust dough, roll out on a floured board, and cut into circles with a large biscuit cutter. Other stewed fresh fruits or stewed dried fruits are traditional, as well, I believe.

A family favorite with my kids – and now my grands: Toast two or three slices of bread per person in the oven; remove baking sheet from oven. Place tomato slices on each piece of toast. Then add a slice of cheese. Next, add a slice of very lightly cooked bacon, cut in half. Run all this under the broiler just long enough to finish cooking the bacon and melt the cheese a little. Serve while hot.

Always leave the oven door slightly open when using the broiler.

For breakfast or a first course, halve and seed a grapefruit, sprinkle brown sugar on it, and run it under the broiler just long enough to melt the sugar. Don’t turn your back. A red cherry in the middle is nice too.

Speaking of grapefruit, a lovely salad is grapefruit sections alternated with sliced avocado, on a leaf or two of Boston lettuce. Dress with a mixture of olive oil, lime or lemon juice, and a dash of onion powder, and paprika.. It is a good idea to dip the avocado slices in the dressing before placing on the salad plates.

This recipe is in my cookbook but it is so easy and good, I will repeat it.
EASY GREEN BEAN SALAD: Drain 2 cans of DelMonte green beans. Place in bowl with 2 cukes, chunked or sliced, about half an onion, chopped, 1 heaping tbl.dill weed, and enough Ranch Dressing to moisten. Best if done ahead so flavors can blend. I don’t use DIET type anything. But bottled Ranch Dressing works OK in this salad.
Our kids love this so we make it often.

Every now and then, Dee will say that something she cooked is not as good as mine. I see two reasons for that. One is that, if your mother was a good cook, you’ll always remember her dishes fondly and kids are often just hungrier from playing hard etc. The other reason is one we are working on and experimenting with a bit. As I see it, it’s just a matter of seasoning. Dee is a fine cook and willing to try different dishes more than I did. Her children are good eaters but have a very different background in foods. So we mostly have just decided that though she often uses the same seasonings I used when she is making one of “my” recipes, she uses too little. When she asked how much dill weed to add to the green bean salad above, a tad tongue in cheek, I said, “Oh, about a handful.”

One of the first things I taught myself to cook and really worked on until I got it right, was light, fluffy biscuits, using only White Lily flour, of course. For the longest time, my husband complained that my biscuits didn’t taste like his mothers. Finally, that jackrabbit confessed that his mother’s biscuits were awful! She was a darling person but had always had a cook. She died two years after we married.

And finally…

My life has surely been very different from what I thought it would be when I was young. I have to say though that it has had plenty of joy and still does. The seemingly mundane parts of keeping house, cooking, and especially being a mother, have brought great joy to me. Now, I am having the icing on the cake with my grandchildren.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Computerized Granny

When I sit down at a piano keyboard and place my fingers on the keys, whatever sounds I hear in my head, are played by my fingers. This is God given.

I take no credit at all for it. I believe my dad had the same talent on a violin.

A keyboard, or piano if you will, is not a machine. When I look at a machine I might just as well look at a blank sheet of black paper. Oh yes, I can learn steps - say 1-9, and if they operate perfectly, then I can manage til something goes wrong. Years ago, I secretly gave away a couple of cheap typewriters as soon as they needed new ribbons because I didn’t want the tears and heartbreak of trying to change them myself. Believe me here, I am not a person who cries easily but confronting a hurt machine causes me to weep copiously.

Two or three times after my husband died, one of my kids would say they thought I would enjoy a computer. Then they would tell me of all the wondrous things a computer can do. That meant absolutely nothing to me. But one day, I heard my son at my back door, calling, Mom, come open the door! Of course, he had his own key but his arms were full. I’ve never seen so many big boxes and they multiplied right there before my eyes. Yep, it was a computer and the beginning of my downfall. Bruce stayed with me that week end to get me started then Dee came the following week end. They double teamed me! They kept saying if I broke it, it could be fixed so that did give me some courage. I’m not sure how long it took me to feel even slightly comfortable but gradually, gradually, I got there.

For a time after my husband died, I’d been taking various courses that interested me, at Augusta State. Not more graduate courses just mostly fun things. A close friend, a recently retired Clinical Psychologist, and I decided to take the Computer for Idiots Class [not its real name]. About half way through the course that was moving along very slowly, I was trying not to jump out of my skin, when an old man in the back, held up his mouse and said, ”Now tell us again what this thing is for?” I very quietly and quickly gathered my stuff and walked out. I could just see the next day’s headline. ”Enraged woman beats up pot bellied old man with his mouse during a computer class at the college.” I did not return.

I am well aware that most folks in my age bracket don't ever touch a computer.

Since I was president of my Garden Club, I had an absolute blast finding information, then printing it for my members. I used reams of paper and gallons of all colors ink. They were regaled with every plant from petunias to poke ”salet” to good old pig weed. We had a wonderful club where it was understood that we were not to be asked to do anything but meet for lunch at the Augusta Country Club, once a month, and act as hostess about once a year, along with two or three other women. My friend, Anna, was Treasurer for years which involved mostly taking up the lunch money and paying. I was either Program Chairman [V.P.] or President, switching around every two years usually. We had thirty-five members, some in their 60’s, but most 70 and above. Two of our most energetic members were in their 90’s. When it came to flower arranging, we’d all been there and done that so this was largely social. I adored that group and had lots of happy times with them. I’m not sure but it is possible that I had the only computer in the group which gave me a certain status as being brilliant!

People, possibly old with plenty of time, like me, sent all kinds of fun stuff. I got tons of jokes, little stories, and anything one can find in print plus lots of pictures. Certain people that I am close to accused me of sending the same jokes several times and no doubt, I did.

Nowadays the material usually falls into several categories:

POLITICAL- I didn’t come here to fight.

I am very Conservative with a few liberal streaks. This is nothing new for me, I’ve pretty much always been this way. Political parties have completely reversed themselves in my lifetime. In his lifetime, my dad was a staunch Democrat, but he’d have a difficult time with that party these days. By the same token, ultra conservatives in the Republican party pretty much turn me off. For me the trick is to only share information with folks who mostly agree with me. Since I am not going to change you --- and you are not going to change me, the only reason to send something that is going to make you angry is just meanness. And, yeah, I am disgustingly crabby sometimes but not too often, I trust! If I get too many snide comments, I just delete that person. It is quite satisfying!

RELIGIOUS - Several different categories here.

Sweet Inspirationals - I usually enjoy these and often share them. You know, feel’umgoods !

You're going straight to hell--- not if you can’t catch me! Delete delete delete –

Pass Alongs – only 5% of all humans are ________. Fill in the blank, as in, NOT Ashamed of Jesus, usually. The devil writes these and since he’s no friend of mine, I delete quickly.

Jesus Ran By My House---- [or town] for a quick visit but now he is gone and is going to your house. Do these folks not stop and think about what they are saying??? Jesus is in my heart and house ALL the time. HE is not going away. HE can be in yours too. But by cracky, HE is not running up and down the road!

Make Me Want to Barf Group--- there is this nice/sweet/pretty message of some sort,Then they ruin the whole thing by saying, send this to 23 people in the next 3 minutes or your teeth will fall out. If the so called miracle happens, it is an accident, folks.

EDUCATIONAL- these are mostly nice and I enjoy them. I do receive a lot of info about airplanes and cars but just pass them along. The travel ones and others often bring back good memories [or not, :0)] Just the other day, I watched a rather long travelogue about Rome and it made me so happy that I had not been there. I could hear my husband’s voice saying, “If you’ve seen one old building- or castle- or cathedral- or whatever, you’ve seen them all.” I would feel different if I were younger — but I’m not. These days, arthritis tempers the joy I used to have when traveling. That’s OK, everything has a season.

KID STORIES- having been one myself, I mostly enjoy these for the first 2 or 3 times each. However, some of the kids in these stories are grandparents now.

Church Stories- like kid stories, they have long gray hair.

CLEAN OR FUNNY? lots of each



NEWSPAPERS- I read several most days, depending on what’s going on in the world. When Bruce was in Iraq , I was often up by 5 or 6 o’clock scanning the news where ever I could find it.

I’ve enjoyed a comic strip, OVERBOARD, for years and have it on my favorites.

Of course, the bottom line here is simply Communication. That’s what makes the world go round and new methods are happening so fast I can’t begin to keep up. I have family and friends from one end of this country to another plus south to north. It is absolutely incredible that I can talk to my friend in northern California, one minute, and another friend in upstate New York , the next. Yes, we’ve been able to communicate through radio, TV, and newspapers for quite a long time. But an instant, personal chat without having to make a long distance call, is fun for me.

One night, over a year ago, I had the heebeejeebies, about 3 am. My son was in Iraq in harm’s way, and I was fighting the worry. I got up and sent him some little funny, not wanting to let him know I was so uneasy. About five minutes later, or less, a message came through, “Mom, what are you doing up this time of night? I am just fine.” I hadn’t fooled him for a minute.

My dad would have had a good time with a computer. He was so intelligent, he’d have picked it up quickly. Now, I thoroughly enjoy watching my grandchildren use them. When school is in session, I often have to wait for one of them to get home and undo some mess I’ve made!