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Two Pairs of Keds

"One for dress, one for everyday."

Month

September 2014

Precious and Few

Precious and Few.

Precious and Few

This could easily be entitled, “I have to get my act together.” Or, “Where has all the time gone?”

One class. That’s all it took. I’ve had part-time jobs with full-time jobs, sat on multiple non-profit boards, had half a dozen commitments going on at one time. But one graduate level class has sucked up all my time.

I’m spending about 8 hours a week on homework; four to five of them are reading, then there’s the actual three hour class, and then, there are the notes. As always, I get to learn my tough lessons empirically. Do I really want a Masters degree? Enough to give up my free time?

There’s a ’70s song, Precious and Few (by Climax), that I keep hearing in my head. The first set of lyrics are “Precious and few are the moments we two can share…and if I can’t find my way back home, it just wouldn’t be fair. Precious and few are the moments we two can share.”

If I could get my act together, I would do my reading during the week and have weekends to enjoy. Life’s short and my kids are generally around, right now.  I decided a long time ago that people are most important. You can’t ever replace the time you missed with your family and friends.

What if I spend time going after something that doesn’t ultimately work out? They can still deny my admittance into Rackham. But what if I could make it, and give away this expensive, but possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance?

I was just starting to play with the idea of writing, of cooking vintage recipes and sharing them. Too many blogs? Too much ego-driven detail? Or a sharing of history?

Can I find time for it all?

My mom said to me, “Jeri Lynn, people find time to do the things they want to do.”  Maybe I will.

Until then, this weekend I used a current recipe for a potluck I’m attending on Monday night. My homework’s done, but I’m happy to have had someone else’s blog to use: www.momontimeout.com (for chocolate zucchini cake).

Hope it’s baked through.  I was doing so many things I forgot to time it.

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If you care to comment here, maybe you would share the ways/times you juggled to make it or gave up one thing for another. I’m interested. We’re in this time-juggling together.

Canned (Chili Sauce)

Canned (Chili Sauce).

Canned (Chili Sauce)

Today, we attempted a vintage chili sauce* recipe.

First hurdle: what’s a peck? And how many pecks are in a bushel?

You’d think you could just Google it, but in reality, it’s a mysterious language spoken by farmers over the centuries. A peck is not by weight, it’s by volume, so a peck of tomatoes fills a certain space…as does a peck of peaches or apples.

Half-peck of apples.
Half-peck of apples (from Wikipedia).

I read, in Encyclopedia Britannica, that the peck measurement was first used in the 14th century for flour. It was standardized as a unit of volume measurement in the 1800’s. You could not prove this by me.

At any rate: 4 pecks = 1 bushel. canned 003Does that help? It didn’t help us, either. We both bought a box of tomatoes that the farm stand employee said was 3/4 of a bushel. So, is that 3 pecks? Here’s a pic of the box, which was about 3x2x2.

Another fun thing about making vintage recipes is that you may or may not have the legend, a map from the people who’ve used it before you. The story behind this chili sauce is that my mother-in-law and her friend would start this early in the morning, letting the ingredients simmer all day, They’d invite their men for cocktails (the hour for this is 5p, in case you’re not a cocktail drinker).

While they sat eating Saga cheese with Water Crackers and drinking Scotch, the lids would pop. Apparently (we learned), the lids need a second tightening. Shirley and Pat would hear the “pops” of the lids and say, “It’s time to go screw.”  This is just one reason why I love my mother-in-law.

Today, two women who’d never canned in their adult years attempted a pretty big recipe. It worked.

I’ll leave notes on what we learned. You can do it.

My husband likes to say that if our food supply is ever cut off, we’ll need these skills. That’s as may be. The reason I think you should make it is that it’s delicious, as in you’ll want to cover every surface with it – hamburgers, chicken, pasta, eggs, potatoes. Your skin. Maybe not. But it’s damn good.

*Note: a friend just asked about chili sauce. It’s a condiment. If you went to the grocery store to buy it, you’d find it with cocktail sauce and catsup. An enhancer, you’d use it on the things I’ve listed above – maybe like a salsa – but this one also plays nicely with pasta and rice.

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Chili Sauce
From: Dorothy Navale (Pat McKone’s mother), Pat McKone (Shirley’s friend), Shirley Preston (Jeri’s MIL), and Louise Wilcox (Shirley’s mother), and now, Jeri Preston (daughter-in-law to Shirley)

Sterilizing canning jars and lids.Makes 14-16 pint jars: sterilize your canning equipment, both jars and lids, in steaming water (does not need to be rolling boil). Set aside and cool.

 

Ingredients
• ½ bushel (2 pecks) tomatoes
• 4 T salt
• 4 t cinnamon
• 2 t allspice
• 1 t cayenne pepper (we used 2t saracha, instead)
• 1 t black pepper
• 1 t ground cloves
• 12 medium onions (“the size that are bagged,” says my MIL)
• 5 red peppers
• 1 green pepper (“for Louise”  –  apparently, the McKone/Navale recipe called for all red peppers, and the Wilcox called for green – Shirley kept one green as a nod to her mom)
• 2 jalepeῆo peppers (you know to seed and remove the membrane, right?)
• 2 qts cider vinegar
• 5 c white sugar

Directions
1. Vegetables can be small chopped the night before.

Vegetables into pot.
Vegetables into pot.

2. Blanch and peel tomatoes (this means you add the tomatoes to almost boiling water, waiting until the skin splits – we found that mashing the tomatoes before they go into the pots helped them cook down).

Two pots ready to simmer.
Two pots ready to simmer.

3. Add all, vegetables and spices (to stock pots (Shirley says it takes two in the beginning, then, as the day goes on and they reduce, you can get it into one pan – I’m not sure we left our batch on the stove long enough…we were not able to combine pans, but it did cook down nicely).

4. Cook (simmer) to desired consistency (takes all day, according to her recollection and ours, too, because you need 4-6 hours of cooking down and stirring and cooking down and stirring….you get the picture…an immersion blender would’ve been nice, but we used a giant whisk).

Cooking down.
Cooking down.

5. Can in sterilized jars. We were advised by a colleague to make sure the neck and seal area of the jar was very clean. If not, seals will not occur. After “pop,” tighten lids again, as they loosen (a silicone mit would’ve been nice, but we just used a pot holder).

Place jars into water with two inches of water over lids for 10-15 minutes.
Place jars into water with two inches of water over lids for 10-15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you when you make this?  The women’s hands it’s touched and the families that ate it.

 

Wild Side (or a Pirate’s Philosophy)

Since I was a kid, I would talk to strangers, walk long distances, and spend many hours reading books and inventing imaginary scenes. No straight and narrow for me. I liked the winding streets, wind in my hair, eyes closed into the wind, leaning out the back of the Bonneville window.

Since tomorrow is my birthday, I’m thinking about the yield – a nice fall term – of these years and this attitude.

Doris_Day_-_1957
Doris Day, 1957

Surely, if I told you my whole story, you would be surprised. You would say, “My! I didn’t expect that of her.” Sort of like my senior hall mate in my freshman dorm, incredulous: “I didn’t know that Doris Day smoked pot.”

It shows in my choice of mates. No one docile and temperate would do for me. Our newlywed years were full of high tempers and drama. No one gave an inch. We are better at respecting each others’ thoughts and dreams these days, but we really haven’t calmed down that much.

My kids are unconventional. No girly girls, although they are certainly beautiful. We have musicians, artists, writers, singers, poets. We have a certified auto mechanic, installation technician on eight foot stilts, turning fills on snowboards, racing dirt bikes. We have an certified urban gardener passionate about sustainable growth, and a social worker (to be) who works with and for disadvantaged youth.

My hobbies are a little off. I can’t knit. I read romance novels and autobiographies, collect vintage cookbooks (which I read like novels) and dishes, especially brown transferware, and when I travel, I like to walk about. Tours are not preferred, although I do like a good ghost story or family legend. Somewhere, long ago, I read that when you travel, you should bring home art…usually, it lies flat and is a great value. I’ve done this since 1981. I would always rather get out of the plane or the car.

I love shoes, because I have nice feet. Everything always fits, unlike pants. I adore broaches.

I like the spin of a message, the point that gets to you, that changes your mind, your opinion, that opens a crack in a door. I enjoy a good philosophical debate, but I don’t appreciate over-blown rhetoric. I love grey. I don’t see the world in black and white.

Today’s youth think they are wild when they buck the system, thwart modern morality, try so very hard to be different. Sad to think that, as adults, we haven’t passed on the wisdom that it’s been ever thus. Poor Miley. Poor Justin, Selena, and their little Disney gang. Or any gang for that matter. Everyone is thinking, “If I make myself conspicuous, I will matter.”

As in, conspicuously sexual. Or violent. Or rich. Or drunk.

Captain_Jack
Jack Sparrow, from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean (I)

I like Jack Sparrow’s line in the first Pirates of the Caribbean: “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that some day.”

Lots of things are in my blood. Back when I was chasing down the moon, I couldn’t imagine that, at 54, I would still feel like a pirate. Its seems we would all have a better cultural and generational understanding if we could stand on deck and deliver. Even shy people would plant their feet and stand firm.

“This is who I am!” everyone would shout. “Like it? Because I walk on the wild side.”

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This started with the juxtaposition of Meijer Gardens to Point Betsie (the cover photo), both really beautiful places to visit here in my glorious state of Michigan. But I prefer the crashing waves, the scrub grass and goldenrod to the cultivated sanctuary of the park. That’s just who I am.

Entrance to Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids
Entrance to Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids

 

 

 

 

 

Fry, Daddy

Again, just a quick recipe tip. I jot them down, as I think about them, because who knows where a thought conceived over Saturday morning coffee and internet surfing will go?

I’m currently investing my time waiting on my husband’s fried potatoes. My part, scrambled eggs with ham, will come just as they’re getting golden brown. Here’s the tip: when you bake potatoes, add six or seven extra. Just pierce their skin and throw them in. When they cool, store them in the ‘frig. You’ll have the BEST fried potatoes for another day.

It’s funny….this was my dad’s job, when I was a kid, to do the potatoes, and by unspoken agreement, Bill has picked up the spatula.

Something about the tender texture of an already baked potato takes oil and/or butter beautifully. It’s a time saver, a resource saver (you don’t have to use so much power to cook another batch of raw potatoes), and it works with leftovers. You can throw any vegetable you care to cook in with the batch, et voilá, a homey vegetarian dinner. You’re going to love it.

Fried Potatoes
The key, here, is to pre-bake your potatoes, so plan to have a Wylie Potato (note to self: provide recipe at a later date) or steak and baked potato, and just add extra. This is the time savings…and somehow, the alchemy that makes them turn out better.fried potatoes 002

6-8 baked medium russets, vegetable oil or butter, and a liberal dose of kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
– cube  evenly (shredding is for fresh potatoes) and fry on medium-high heat in non-stick pan OR
– cube evenly and fry in oven in cast iron skillet (you might want to heat it up a bit, before you add your ingredients)
– your frying agents may vary: 5-6 tablespoons of vegetable oil, or 1/4 to 1/2 c butter (I hate margarine, but if you have to do it, carry on)
– if you want to add some diced onion or peppers, now’s the time…it’s important to dice them in regular sizes, so they cook evenly
– check your skillet during the frying process, that the potatoes have moisture..it’s easier to add a jot of water or a bit more oil, by just pouring it down the side of the pan

TURNING YOUR POTATOES: the temptation is to stir them. Don’t. You can be patient. Let them fry 10-15 minutes, lift with your spatula, and flip to the opposite side.

Additional serving suggestions for the lowly leftover potato, now raised to elegant heights:
– add diced tomatoes, to heat through, just before serving
– add crumbled bacon and/or diced ham (leftovers also work here)
– serve with salsa (my dad would’ve laughed at this and pulled out the bottle of catsup)
– as you read, above, we’re having scrambled eggs. (Funny thing. If you spend your time writing a blog, your husband will carry on and make the whole dish.)

Happy weekend. Happy hearty after-a-hard-day’s-work meal.
Just happy.

 

 

 

 

Prometheus Recalled (As is Poor Man’s Pie)

First night of class, they had to call on old Prometheus.

He was there, way, way, way, way back in my mind. It was like pushing open an old door with rusty hinges….and a giant bookcase behind it, to keep out the intruders.

Of course, I loved mythology in high school. Burt VanderLee taught it. I took every class he offered: Latin (two years, until I gave up the struggle), Mythology, Comparative Religions. Sigh. He was so suave and debonair. It was purely academic.

Thirty-six years later, they want to know what Prometheus is accredited as giving to humans. Some soft-faced young man ventured (in a fairly confident way) that it is fire. He was right.

The instructor went on to say that in its spreading, Zeus was out of bounds in his rage (what’s new?), as fire is not diminished by the sharing. Fire grows. More fire begets a larger glow. The light, shared and burning, unextinguished, provides hope.

So, rather than being rather angry – leaving him on a rock for his liver to be perpetually plucked by an eagle – over the fire, Zeus was furious about the spread of hope. 300px-Prometheus_Adam_Louvre_MR1745_edit_atoma(This is a rather lovely marble, from the Louvre, of this terrifying image.) How can you repress humankind, if they hold hope in their hands?

Unabashedly, I will admit that I’m afraid I’ll feel like Prometheus by the end of this, plucked and plucked, but today I’m feeling rather hopeful. In a rusty sort of way.

This is quite a leap, but going back to the classroom made me think about being young. Youth has a persistent hope, if not totally quelled by violence, that sustains. Although we were, by far, not the richest people on the block, we were resourceful. My dad was handy and a good mechanic. My mom was a farm girl, a 4-H’er, and the oldest child of a family with an ill mother. She could make do.

Here’s a make-do….maybe you’ll use it sometime and feel a little resourceful, too. My mom would make it and we would argue over who got it, if the crust was a tiny one.

Poor Man’s Pie
The purpose of this pie, during the Depression, was not to waste a smidgeon of crust…and if you had no filling, to have a tasty tartlet.

Crust: 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled vegetable* shortening
3 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water

Sift your dry ingredients. Cut in vegetable shortening (*cooks during the Depression were delighted with vegetable shortening, because lard could go rancid, while this new invention had quite the shelf life…this side of forever…poor Prometheus) until dough starts to crumble. Form into ball by sprinkling in ice water, a tablespoon at a time. (See Back Then: Peach Pie for a better description.)

Filling: Well, this is the point, isn’t it? This recipe is for that last little ball of crust that didn’t make the pan when you trimmed it. Or for that end-of-the-paycheck night, when you need dessert and have none, and so, you make do.

  • Brown sugar or white sugar….or both…
  • Butter….a couple of tablespoons or what you can spare…
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg or ground cloves or a mixture…
  • Ohhh, if you have real heavy cream and some flour, you can create a custard….by heating the cream (not scalding, no! no!) and gently stirring in the flour by tablespoons until it thickens to a pudding texture….
  • And a cup of dark Karo syrup and an egg will transport it into brown sugar pie…
  • But if you don’t, just pat a crumble of the sugar(s), butter, and spices onto your crust and fold up the sides, maybe an inch (or less, if you can’t spare the crust).

Pop your crust into a preheated 350º oven and watch it! The outsides of your crust should be golden and your sugar bubbling, but not burnt. I had this, as a child, before PopTarts. It’s delicious.

It almost makes you feel like you’ll make the grade…like me, in Burt’s Advanced Latin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The View

This will be short.

It’s nothing that you haven’t thought before. Don’t like the view? Move.

Someone in my community was shot and killed tonight, both victims of road rage. One paid with his life.

I don’t blame guns anymore than I blame the fire that burned the 15 year old in Illinois or the pressure cooker in Boston, or the planes that flew into the Twin Towers, or the bombs in the Middle East.

I blame the view. The view that tells us life is ugly, people are evil, there is no love, you have no one to understand, that someone needs to be killed to eliminate feelings of hatred.

I believe that evil is increasing a hold on our world. We see these things and we resort to desperation. And despair.

Where is redemption? Is there any out there?

My friend, you hold the binoculars or the telescope. Change the view. And then, share it with someone else.

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The featured photo at the top of the page was from an early summer commute, which was clearly a traffic jam. I posted it with: “When starting out the morning, it’s clearly a matter of perspective.” (Facebook, June 5, 2014) Amen?

The lake view through the window?  Allow me to introduce you to a fun new addiction: Pinwords.com. Yes, folks, you’ll love it.

 

Little Labor Menu

It seems funny to cook like a mad thing on Labor Day, which is set aside as a time to honor the labor force. So, don’t, I say. Labor not.

As we move into fall, with tailgating, rustic picnics, chillier weather, and usually a faster pace, with school and encroaching holidays, it’s time to make things that are simple.

Here’s a menu that requires little labor, a minimum of planning, and quick cooking.

Little Labor Menu

Any meat you can throw on the grill (or a veggie burger) – we had Italian sausages, hot dogs, and burgers.
Little Labor Pasta Salad – this is a throw back to the variety we made back in the late ’80s (see recipe, following).
Quickly blanched green beans tossed in kosher salt and butter.
Marcelled (wavy) potato chips.* Read the explanation for the origin of this term. It’s fun.
Light side – here, it’s sliced watermelon. See options.**
Frozen pie – baked at 300º for an hour and a half (see Back Then: Peach Pie recipe from this blog site or just buy one and follow the directions).

Little Labor Pasta Salad
1 lb Farfelle (bowtie) pasta
1 c chopped orange, red, and yellow peppers
1 c chopped English cucumber, peeled
1 c chopped red onion
1 can drained chick peas
1 c feta (or goat) cheese, crumbled
1 bottle of your best balsamic dressing or make this dressing: 1/4 c balsamic vinegar, 2 cloves garlic (crushed), 2 T fresh lemon juice,  2 T chopped fresh basil, 3/4-1 c extra virgin olive oil. Whisk all.

Cook pasta according to directions (don’t overcook – really limp pasta will not hold up to all your veggies). Rough chop your vegetables. Toss all with dressing.

The 1980’s version of pasta salad called for a couple of tablespoons of McCormick salad seasoningmccormick salad seasoning and a bottle of Creamy Italian dressing. We also added chucks of salami or beef stick (if you buy salami from the deli, purchase it unsliced and make your own 1″ cubes).

If this calls to you, go right ahead. It’s just labor I’m trying to save here, not your taste buds.

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*Marcelled potato chips are actually referencing women’s hairstyles in the 1920’s, when bobs with waves were in. marcelledWe call them wavy chips now (the thicker, the better!), but I just like words, don’t you?

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**Options: As the season moves on, you’ll get creative with your light side dishes. Resist the urge to go into your heavier dishes until later. Time enough for that in November….try a plate of sliced celery and herbed goat cheese, leaving the salad cheese off the menu. Maybe add a selection of olives.

 

 

 

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