July 2011


29 Jul 2011 09:17 pm

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Life before fast food was slower.
 
It sure was a much more meandering pace for our family. For the readers who were not born during the fifties: there were no microwaves, but there were stoves and ovens and ice boxes (refrigerators). Although many women did go to work during and after World War ll, most women were still at home raising children during the early fifties.

  1. They were cooking. Cleaning. Reading cookbooks. Cracking eggs. Chasing their kids around the house outside with a switch when they didn’t behave themselves. (hmm umm)

The food may have even tasted better.
 
I remember taking my own good time at the supper table. I liked to linger and count the peas left on my plate. Make faces at my little sister. The food was pretty simple back then but it was fixed by my Mother who just happened to be one of the best cooks in the world.

Anyway, I thought so. My mother graduated from high school and married my Dad several weeks later. When I came along she was already an accomplished cook because, as she told me, she made straight ‘A’s in Home Economics.

Mother could cook anything without measuring cups or spoons but she always had her high school home economics text book on the kitchen counter which helped her to prepare wholesome, healthy meals. I always liked books even before I could read and I remember poring over the menu section. Mother never cooked duck that I can remember but I used to wonder what it tasted like. In the cookbook were menu suggestions for everyday of the week and for holidays.

I remember one menu for a January dinner:

Avocado Cocktail salad, Duck with Sauerkraut, carrot and celery souffle and Hot Mince Pie with Rum Sauce for dessert.

The only way we ate saurekraut at our house was with weiners. It wasn’t one of my favorite dishes. Being a Baptist family, household rum wasn’t consumed but I often wondered how Mince Meat Pie tasted with Rum sauce. That sounded yummy to me.

Anyway, there were, of course, grocery stores in the fifties. I remember going with my Mother a few times when I was really little but she usually managed to do that chore without us. We had chickens and ducks when we were young and I recall gathering eggs and bringing them in to the kitchen. We had a milkman who would deliver milk in glass bottles. I used to watch in a mixture of horror and awe as my mother cut up a chicken. To this day I cannot do it. I just don’t have the pioneer spirit I suppose.

We were of English/Scotch/Irish stock and when it came to the partaking of meals, we called them: breakfast, dinner and supper. No one had lunch. That was for people who lived in Missouri.

My Dad was a finicky eater so when my Mother strayed from the meat and potatoes route she received scant appreciation. She used her creative passions (and she had a lot of them) on her desserts. Mother made the best date candy, pumpkin, and apple pies, cobblers and cakes.

When the cupboard was bare Mother still managed to whip up magic with the use of a little white cornmeal, sugar, milk and hot water. I was fascinated by an old cookbook Mother inherited from her New England grandfather. I spent many hours thumbing through the cookbook to find exotic receipts such as Turtle Soup and Johnnycakes. Yes, my Mother made the Johnnycakes from the recipes she found in Grandfather Whitmarsh’s cookbook. So, it’s true, a little bit of Yankee cooking was handed down through the family.

We didn’t drink soft drinks or eat potato chips. Mother taught us that vegetables and fruit should reflect the color wheel during our daily meals. She enforced the drinking of milk unfortunately. I always hated milk. The first thing I did when I went away to college was  stop drinking it.

Food was cooked from scratch.
 
There were no mixes, no MSG, no shortcuts in our family’s larder. According to some food writers and experts the time after World War ll brought many modern conveniences to fifties housewives with processed foods such as Cheeze Whiz and frozen products. They tended to be too pricey and lacked nutritional value for my Mother’s uses. Sometimes I would find myself sitting on the front porch swing shucking corn or snapping green beans.

My favorite meal was a dish my Mother called, Arkansas Pie, which was yellow cornbread covered with butter beans, and topped with a slice of onion and a dollop of ketchup.

Along with the Arkansas Pie we had fresh cooked green beans, fried ham, and coleslaw. There were usually tomatoes from the garden. Daddy was a frustrated farmer who always had something growing: kale, asparagus, corn or tomatoes.

Sometimes on the weekends, Mother would make banana pudding which she always served with meringue topping.

  • No, none of us had weight problems. We weren’t couch potatoes, there was no such term back in the fifties. We were active, busy kids, spending most of our time outside.

Oh, but the fifties pressure cooker. It was a big, aluminum pot that scared me something awful when Mother had it going. It hissed and splattered and seemed to always be on the edge of exploding. But Mother operated it like a cool scientist who understood her science. She used the cooker often to cook chicken and other meats. When she finished preparing the chicken the dumplings she made after wards were worth the terror the pressure cooker caused. Mother wouldn’t allow us in the kitchen when the pressure cooker was at work.

It never did blow up on us, although it did explode many times in my imagination.

Another delicious dish Mother made in the pressure cooker was her beef and vegetable stew. Mother put pretty tough slices of beef in the cooker, along with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery and other vegetables and within twenty minutes or so, have a great stew. The meat was tender and tasty and most of us were right on time when called to the table for supper.

Leftover roast beef was made into a special treat by the use of a hand-crank meat grinder that clamped onto the side of a counter. Feeding the ingredients into the little mechanical miracle was some kind of thrill for me and I was always up for helping my mother make the roast beef salad. She added chopped pickles, salt and pepper and mayonnaise. We served it up on Wonder Bread and it was delicious. My siblings liked to have a side of cottage cheese with the roast beef salad sandwich but it made me gag. The sandwich alone was good enough for me.

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Fishing at Silver Bridge

My grandparents were fishermen so we went fishing a lot when we were young. The family’s favorite destination was a place up in the Boston Mountains called Silver Bridge. Most of the fish fries occurred at our grandparents’ house, but I got the feeling my Mother didn’t much care for cooking fish. Still, she made great Salmon croquettes. The salmon fillets came from a can but she managed to make it taste like something special by adding green onions, an egg, bread crumbs (or crackers) and frying it in some vegetable oil.

We were never allowed to eat much popcorn or peanut butter because our family doctor advised against it. He suspected that popcorn and peanut butter might cause appendicitis. Anyway, that’s what Mother told us. After I grew up I made up for that deprivation. I love popcorn.

When t.v. dinners came along they were too expensive for my parents’ budget and my Mother wasn’t convinced that they were nutritious. I remember wanting to try the Mexican t.v. dinners once for my birthday so Mother made an exception for that. There was a little Mexican Tamale place downtown and occasionally our Grandfather would pick up some tamales and bring them over to us. The t.v. dinners didn’t compare to the downtown tamales so I never asked for Mexican t.v. dinners for my birthday again.

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In the fifties people didn’t go out to dinner that often. Sometimes when Mother took us downtown to see our grandparents at their dry-cleaning shop, The Rightway Cleaners, on Garrison Avenue we were treated to dinner at Woolworth’s counter. My sister and I loved their mashed potatoes and brown gravy and rolls, which is what we always ordered.

  • My Mother and Grandmother could always be counted on to go down the block to The Wide Awake Cafe to get a cup of coffee. I hated milk but loved the cream that was served with the coffee and my Grandmother always shared her cream with me. I also loved the red headed waitress who always served us. That was my Aunt Jeanine.

The Fun Guy in the Kitchen
 

  • My Dad never ventured into the kitchen unless our Mother was really sick and the only foods he knew how to make were fried potatoes and pancakes. He’d open up a can of pork and beans and serve it along with the fried potatoes and his children thought he was some kind of cool chef from outer space. He made his pancakes in the shape of animals.

Lucy and the Liver

  • When my Mother fixed liver for supper my sister, Lucy hightailed it over the little foot bridge to our neighbor, Ellen’s house and hid in her room. She couldn’t stand the smell of liver. My Mother would send us out looking for her. We knew where she was but would take our time looking for her because we knew there would be the usual scene at the table. Lucy was really clumsy and spilled her milk at almost every meal. She didn’t do it on purpose either.

Unlike my sister, I liked my Mother’s Liver and Onions. In fact, it had something to do with my romance with my future husband. One of the first times Bob came over to our house my Mother was making Liver and Onions for dinner. I was sort of embarrassed about the humble food she was preparing but Bob’s eyes lit up and he invited himself to eat. Mother had fixed mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade biscuits, the liver and onions, peas, etc. Bob was smitten.

He sat down in the onlooker’s chair. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Onlooker’s Chair
 

  • The Onlooker’s chair was just an extra chair at the dinner table that a neighbor or friend who dropped by unexpectedly was invited to sit down in to have a meal with us. It became the “onlooker’s chair” one day when our friend,Tommy came over.  When we invited him to eat supper with us, he said,”no, I already ate, I’ll just look.”
20 Jul 2011 08:20 am

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6:10 am Central Standard Time

I am up taking my dog, Penny out to do what little doggies do, plus things Penny, in particular, likes to do. Penny has very sharp eyes and can see a quarter mile away to the end of the now brown yard where, in front of the hedges, sits a very still brown rabbit. Penny freezes, her nose is fixed in place, one paw seems to be pointing straight ahead and we stand there for what seems like an eternity, although it’s probably about a minute. I am pretty patient with Penny because I like to see what she will do. I move steadily forward, Penny stays fixed.

After another quiet eternity I feel the need to get the rabbit hunt moving along so I edge a few more steps forward. Still eyeing her prey, Penny doesn’t move at all. Neither does the rabbit.

Penny has me on a leash. I have moved to the end of it. I am anticipating coffee and a quiet morning inside the house and yet Penny is transfixed by the silly rabbit.

I tighten my grip on the leash. I stomp on the ground. Penny leaps and leads me flying across the yard only to end up sniffing frantically under the hedge because the rabbit has disappeared under it.

That adventure sadly concluded, I give Penny a consolation stroll back round the house and she decides to take a turn up the hill and to the right. There at the end of the backyard sits a very large calico cat. This cat is so large that when my husband has taken Penny out at night he has mistakenly identified her as a bobcat, a possum, or some other kind of “panther” of the night. After he got new glasses he realized that she is just a really large cat. Whatever, Penny believed his reaction and was very frightened of “Calico”.

I suppose Penny has learned a healthy respect for cats from our own in-house felines, Amos and Sabby, so she just paused and glanced at the Calico and turned to go back down the hill.

We were back in the house by 6:26 am and I was sipping coffee and checking out the news by 6:40 am. Instapundit had already posted four or five links by the time I had taken my dog outside. Does he not have a dog or cat to tend to? I know he can schedule links and all that but he comes up with great takes and succinct and economical commentary all day and night.

Evidence of a dog-less lifestyle? Perhaps more interest in all things bacon?

I find this particular link striking. It makes me think of President George W. Bush and his stirring words about every human heart’s desire for freedom. Now Iranians are responding in an important way. They are defying the Islamic Republic fatwa against owning dogs and are buying and selling dogs online. Yes, dogs as pets are good for human hearts. (cats too)

04 Jul 2011 02:49 pm

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It is America’s 235th Birthday. She deserves more than a cake, a gift and a card.

A parade, fireworks and a barbecue could be meaningful of course but if we go away and forget what this day means tomorrow, shame on us.

Matthew Spalding at The Heritage Foundation explains why we celebrate the 4th of July. Here is just one excerpt:

The ringing phrases of the Declaration of Independence speak to all those who strive for liberty and seek to vindicate the principles of self-government. But it was an aged John Adams who, when he was asked to prepare a statement on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, delivered two words that still convey our great hope every Fourth of July: “Independence Forever.”

03 Jul 2011 03:26 am

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My children on some rocks at Fort Monroe years ago.

Boy it was hot today. But it was even hotter yesterday. I went to see my sister about thirty five miles south of me and spent a few hours helping her to inventory art items and when I got back in my car the temperature was 117 degrees. As I was driving home I glanced at the temperature gauge and it was slow to cool. By the time I arrived home the temp had merely cooled to 102 degrees. And I was thirsty. I was so dry I was spitting cotton. Unlike some people, I don’t like heat. Summer is my least favorite season.

An odd thing happened while I was with my sister counting and listing all the art materials. We were in her art room which is in an old stone building and has absolutely no windows. The air conditioner was old and struggling to keep us cool. Around five o’clock I had a feeling that it was raining outside.

I walked over to open the door to take a look and no, it was sunny and hot. A weird feeling. I was wrong. But after I got home I noticed that almost all the lights were out in the house. My husband told me that we had had a power failure for a couple of hours even though there hadn’t been any bad weather, just a little rain.

I checked the weather and discovered that just a few blocks away there had been quite a bit of bad weather, one of those “microbursts” of wind and rain that knocked down a lot of power lines.

So I was glad that the flowers and Alberta Pines had been watered by the rain and that I was home and the electricity had been restored and that, for once, I had missed the lack of it. But I did have to endure the heat inside the car.

We Americans are so spoiled.

I know I am.

I am writing the whiny proof about myself.

Last night ended up being a delight because with our precious electricity we were able to view the Coen Brothers True Grit for the first time. I had resisted all this time because, being a John Wayne fan and a purist for the original True Grit I didn’t think it could be improved upon. But it could and it was.

How do I judge a movie? Not only by how much it affects me while I am watching it but by how much I think about it later. I love how the Coen Brothers captured the dialect/language of the era and region. Much of it, of course, was lifted straight from the Charles Portis book and was in the first True Grit but the dialogue in the Coens’ True Grit was rich and well delivered, developing the characters through the use of it. The original was like reading the New American Standard Bible but the Coen Brothers’ True Grit was like reading the King James Bible. (I much prefer that)

What touched me personally? The Fort Smith where Mattie found Rooster Cogburn still has some people around here who live their lives and speak as uncompromisingly as Mattie Ross. (my grandmother spoke with few contractions)

My favorite scene? Seeing that little girl put on her over-sized hat and get on her ten dollar pony (named Little Blackie) and plunge into the Poteau River to catch up with Rooster and La Boeuf and make it to the other side. Mattie herself had True Grit.

We need more people with True Grit (unyielding courage in the face of danger) We see it everyday in our military, and in heroic people who step up to save people in danger but it is rare to see it in those in the political realm. That is, it is rare to see courage in those who are in elective office.

Some individuals, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, in particular, are courageous in my book. Sarah is still standing after the relentless attacks of the democrat hounds of hell. They are just now starting on Michelle.

Our Founders had the grit to face the British in 1776. They endured many long years before we had what Franklin termed a Republic. If we are to keep it, we have to stop the whining, and stand up and unite behind a conservative who we can trust to stand up and rouse the American people to listen and vote out that sorry outfit in the White House.

It may be still hot outside but we can take the heat.