Friday, February 22, 2013
Falling apart and full of vintage charm, the happiest part of a girl's kitchen are those old cookbooks cheerfully lining a shelf.
My heart had a tiny tear inside it seeing the stack of cookbooks a girl had piled high that were to be passed along to charity. Her tiny computer, lacking any room to write notes in the margins or carry the character of a dog eared page, would sit on top of the counter blasting out directions to create supper. Realizing I might still have one foot stuck in the boot of 'things from the past' I can't help but want to hang onto my dear cookbooks.
In any small town freckling the map of our western provinces, you are sure to find a ladies club who have tirelessly hounded members of the community to put a book of recipes together. In these books you can find recipes from the grandmother, mother, and daughter, with maiden names in brackets and the food reminding you of the history of generations before us. Such common shower gifts are these cookbooks, along with the 4-H cookbook and possibly one that one of the local families have put together.
Some of my favorite books are the ones from the Grandmas or even Great Grandmas before us. With recipes that hold instructions for feeding a crowd of 100 at a fall supper or some secret nugget of wisdom on how much snow to use as replacement if you don't have the right amount of fresh eggs in store - these are a treasure. The best recipes are often found on the grimiest pages and the worst have your cousin's writing across the top saying "forget it!" in bold letters.
The only con that comes along with these kitchen bibles that make their way into our homes, wrapped in tea towels and given with love in a church basement, is the enormous amount of pressure that comes along with them. When Aunt Annie, the famed cook in the family, hands you her family recipes, you can bet she is sure to expect you to cook them - and cook them with the expertise that her hands hold. You can pray the housewife's prayer when Aunt Annie is coming for supper, because she was raised up right on the plains of Alberta. She will expect a meal that will meet the quantities of feeding fifteen after a branding, and the quality of something made for the queen. The strain of your meal will mount when you see her car pull into the drive half hour early and it looks like your kitchen has had fourteen toddlers helping out. Although tears might nearly be in your eyes by this point, I don't think any recipe found on the internet or some sort of starter mix found in Wal-Mart will ever meet the satisfaction of pulling one of those old fashioned meals together that the kin before us have chowed down at their supper tables.
So, for those of you out there who have left your cookbooks dusty on the shelf, pick one up and peruse through it. Chuckle at the tips, be grateful you aren't eating that jellied salad tonight and best of all, give one of those recipes a shot. I double dog dare ya. I'll pop over and share in your delight and we can leave the mess of our kitchens for the next day.
Tried and true, this smell greeted us so many days after trekking up the lane after school.
Banana Drop Cookies
2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup margarine
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium)
sugar & cinnamon
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Cream margarine, add sugar gradually, beating until light & fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating each addition. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture alternating with bananas, beating after each addition until smooth. Drop by teaspoonful on lightly greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes. Remove from pan at once. Makes 2 1/2 - 3 dozen.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Sometimes it's the tiny things in life that are our biggest nightmares. Things that make grown men turn as white as the snow covered prairies in the dead of winter and ladies full of maturity shriek like a two year old. Kids growing up amidst the wheat fields in cheerful, tidy old houses and worn trailers know of these nightmares and know how to watch for the signs of them.
At a young age, I remember opening the drawer in my Auntie's beautiful old farmhouse to my delight to see a plastic mouse - some great thing I thought that she kept toys in her kitchen. My Auntie was working hard to overcome her fear of mice and thought that by becoming so used to seeing this dreaded creature in her cutlery drawer, it might fill her with the strength to stay on the home place when, yes folks, a mouse was found in the house.
I suppose my Aunts' came by their fear of mice honestly. Engraved in my mind is my red headed Irish Grandma going after a tiny grey creature, with the strength of ten men, in the aged farmhouse with a straw broom in hand. Our Grandpa, a hulk of a man and hero in our eyes, perched atop his chair, face bleached white too full of fear to holler. Luckily in our house, our Dad took care of these lil' "problems" and when I heard a rustling in my closet one night, and came out to let my folks know, Dad emerged from the bedroom in a short time, after some thumping abounded, and let me know it was fine to go back to bed, it was only a "big moth."
We were carefully trained as children to take a peek in our boots before we'd pull them on to head outside, so strong are the memories of my mom's of pulling on her chore boots only for her foot to meet a wriggling mouse. I am not sure what it is that makes us shriek, holler, and claim them as some of the nastiest creatures to endure out here in the wild west. Those little field mice, out there destroying crops, carrying disease and seeming to pop out of nowhere like some sort of terrible Halloween prank make so many plumb near lose their minds.
So many of these stringy tailed creatures meet their fate nowadays in a bale buster, but in days gone by when everyone set out bedding with small square bales, a much more fearsome blow was found - not so much for the mouse, but for the one who came across them. Family members love to tell the stories on my dad while bedding the cattle, when all of a sudden the giant man was doing the hippy hippy shake, ripping clothes off, as a mouse ran up his leg - the memory of it scurrying around his skin making him shudder now. Similar things happened to others, like my Uncle, but both men are quick to mention the neighbor lady who had a similar experience putting her hand in her pocket and screeching like a banshee. As she hopped around hollering, ripping at her coat, she somehow lodged that balled up wad of Kleenex in her pocket to realize that the "mouse" was just remnants of a cold.
Now, I know all those outside of the Alberta border, who don't know about the Alberta rat patrol, are probably scoffing at our arch nemesis and you'd like to tell your rat stories, but for now let me revel in my mice stories. Come Fall, when we are all crying and fighting the battle with any of these dreaded creatures, we'll commiserate, laugh, and curse the dickens out of them. We'll also know in our heart of hearts that along with the Red Tailed Hawk, the swift Pronghorns, and the old mother Badger, that the bitsy Deer Mice are more a part of these prairies than us grizzled old folks who have taken up residence here. It still doesn't mean we have to like them.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1.First things first, thank you to the few of you who have sent e-mails and left comments checking in on us. We are well and semi- sound of mind, nothing out of the usual really. It was nice to take a break from the blog world for the Christmas season, it just seems I took a bit more of a holiday than expected. This left more time for me to take leisurely bubble baths and eat bon bons like all mothers of young children do - all. day. long. Isn't this how you fill your days?
2.As much as wintertime is part of what we are made of around here, I can't wait for the soil to start to thaw and when that smell of black earth comes alive in my nose. While I don't wish the Now away, the hope of the arrival of calves in a few short months, days filled with more sunshine and the chance to haul children outside without fifteen layers of clothes is a sweet, sweet thought. I may have already bought slush pants for the girls even though we have months of snow left.
|Iced up windows-ain't she warm and cozy in here girls?|
3.Christmas was a great success as it is bound to be with a three year old and one year old. The girls sat a local Christmas concert in the lil' hamlet down the road. A small handful of families gather and any child who wants to get up, in their Christmas finest, and sing their own rendition of Jingle Bells or Rudolph can go ahead and haul up and belt 'er out. Taylin & Myla perched on chairs beside their cousin and we realized that these kids were the fourth, possibly fifth generation, to get up there and sing loudly in front of the wee crowd. History in the making, folks.
4.It has been routine around here, with a few specialty days marked with the flu bug as all families seem to monkey with at this time of the year. There have been a few days following that flu where the eldest child has crawled out of bed in the morning and wondered if she might be a "little bit sick," only because in her mind, a cartoon on youtube equates with those blasted sick days. For the love of Pete, for a kid with no TV, she is some kind of TV hound and certainly gawks when we are in Costco and go down an aisle where there is a TV in sight.
5.Our days are white, white - grey, and more white. My eyes hurt because of the glare of it all and I'm ever grateful for the rising of the sun, and the time of day when it falls to sleep - the colors that reflect on the snow are startling and beautiful. Despite the cold, I'm thankful for this old land.
|Hooray for colors, mountains in the distance, and that sense of "home is best" as one particular three year old would put it.|
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Not many people can capture the Christmas spirit in thousands of tiny, sparkling bulbs quite like my Grandpa Larry. The man makes the most elaborate homes out of Christmas movies look like an amateur job. Winter Solstice in south central Alberta is probably too many hours of daylight for his liking. When 4:30 rolls around and the sun is tucking itself in for the night, Grandpa is just pulling out his sunglasses. The man has a zillion watts of lights strategically placed around his farm to make your eyes burn and the sun going down is the pinnacle in his day, simply because it's time to plug in a bit of a Christmas show.
Grandpa's immaculate home place is enveloped by crop land and is happily invisible from any main highway. The fact that it's a back road beauty doesn't deter Grandpa from putting on the best light show around. As a little girl, I can remember the wonder of a giant star on top of Grandpa's shop, pumping out music and lights rhythmically dancing to the beat - long before the time anyone else would have done this sort of thing. As an adult, I can now fully appreciate the work that Grandpa puts into his festivities, and can also see a bit of the madness in his ways.
Years ago, when one of the local hardware stores had a deal on where you could exchange your old Christmas lights and get a deal on a string of LED lights, I could tell Grandma was getting mildy annoyed with the hoards of lights that kept coming home from town. Grandpa soon quit making excuses to head into town, he just did, it was another trip for lights and no one asked any questions. Although, just to be clear, Grandpa's Christmas lights aren't just about quantity, but to this perfectionist, quality reigns. Months before Christmas, Grandpa Larry starts to pull out the boards that are all numbered, to know which one to hang between what column on the deck of their home. You wouldn't just hang lights all willy nilly, you know, but they must be neatly strung on a board so they aren't all floppy like. No amount of effort is spared. If it takes the gas powered cherry picker (with not a cherry to be found for hundreds of miles, unless you call the twenty five thousand light bulbs cherries) to deck the tractor out, or reach the top of the shop, then so be it. I think when you ask us grandchildren about Grandpa's occupation, we won't say much about grain farming, but we'd shout "Christmas light magician! "
Last year we all were concerned when Grandpa fell off the ladder when stringing his infamous Christmas display. The only thing Grandpa Larry was concerned about was getting the rest of the lights up. When he realized Grandma was fit as a fiddle and his instructional voice wasn't the least bit impaired - Christmas light fixing continued. This year, when telephone poles were pushed into the ground between the garden and the trees north of the house, to hang huge cables on, our family didn't even bat an eye. We almost felt like daring Grandpa, "What? You're just doing a row of little old light's there? Come on!"
I come by my love of Christmas lights honestly and always appreciate those that spend the time to decorate with such fervor. Every year we'd drive into the local small town to look at lights. It didn't hurt our feelings that there were only three streets and only a hand full of houses had lights up, it was the merriment of it all really, and possibly the hot chocolate after.
A few years ago the token John Deere salesmen, a favorite man in the area, put the most effort in of us all. He may or may not have taken every single blue bulb off the New Holland dealership's tractor that was all lit up in town, and replaced each bulb - with a bright green bulb of course! This is the kind of effort I'm talking about! The effort I applaud! I am thinking my grandpa and the John Deere salesman should get together, with Grandpa's vision and tenacity, and the John Deere salesman's jokester ways they could nearly make the coffee shop sing with stories.
As you contemplate your Christmas lights for the upcoming years, remember the wonder in the children's eyes. As much as Grandpa Larry would beg to differ, they don't have to be perfect, they just have to be bright.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Baking with Mama always comes with rules, doesn't it?
After a thorough wash, rule numero uno is of utmost importance-roll up your sleeves. Nothing irks my Grandma more than someone working in the kitchen with their sleeves hanging down, all sloppy like that Martha Stewart on the TV. How could you go on national television with your sleeves hanging down while you work in the kitchen? Yes, ladies, my Grandma does truly have the cornerstone on home making and probably could out cook Martha any day, with her sleeves rolled up.
This ginger snap cookie recipe comes from my Momma-my great Grandma on this side of the family. It has been faithfully made in our family for several generations, and I can remember the warm scent of my mom cooking these up in our kitchen around Christmas. If I was helping at Grandma's house, she was sure to give us girl's a taste of molasses straight off the spoon. When I was eight years old this seemed like a delicacy. Have you ever tried it as an adult though? Not quite what I had envisioned.
Mom always pushed these cookies flat with a fork, and they were so nice and crispy with a cup of tea. I like to roll them into tiny balls, covered in sugar and they are left soft and chewy.
Try them out, but please, make sure to avoid being anything like Martha and roll up your sleeves.
Momma's Ginger Snaps
1c brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
Mix wet ingredients together with beater. Mix dry ingredients in and add cloves. Roll in small balls & dip in sugar. Bake 12 minutes at 350F.
Mix in double or triple batches around Christmas. These cookies freeze well and are the perfect addition to any chilly winter day with a glass of milk or tea.
|Proof is in the pudding-or in this case, cookies. Served best to a three year old with milk!|
For my friend T- may your travels be merry, your children patient, and the best deals to be had. Have fun this week.
|Road trips are exhausting!|
Some grain farmers from Alberta head to the deep south in winter, to see a little sunshine and experience warmth in their Canadian winter bones. My grandparents and their friends head south too, only not quite as far across the border as others. Great Falls, Montana seems to scream their names, and the deals on Black Friday have been no exception to this calling.
We have travelled with neighbours in the past to hit up Great Falls, and some might scoff heading to a 'smaller' city to shop. Alas, Albertans love a good deal as much as they love their beef. Young ones burn down in two tone trucks- different shades of dust-all gussied up with teased hair and made up ivory skin for a cheap vacation and to haul back el cheapo Wranglers. Throw fifteen years on their lives and they will be buying cheap shampoo and Shasta, with car seats pinched in the back of the 'burb'. Momma's buy snow suits, carefully planned Christmas gifts, and stock up on brands of baby gear you can't find at home. A mighty whoop whoop would be hollered at the Big R and a small hallelujah at Target. Cross border shopping is no stranger to some and Albertan's know which hotel has the nicest pool, which will squirrel up the most packages ordered in, and hands down which facility has the finest continental breakfast. For the rural Prarieites who don't get to town a lot, gracing the streets of Great Falls is as much as holiday as heading to Cancun, only the souvenirs brought home aren't little trinket shells. Border guards are used to trucks full of Ivomec, cheap fabric, and Carhartt's stacked to the hilt. I'm always just a little afraid that they think we are hauling stuff home for a 125 person mixed farming operation, and that they are a bit confused that my name isn't Dorothy and my husband's isn't Jake on our passports.
Now, although I have never experienced Black Friday in the US, the stories of people roaming the streets at the oddest hours have always struck me as a little wild. The day following a calendar day that is supposed to honour gratitude for what you have, people seem to just plumb lose their minds and race into the cities to haul more. stuff. home.
I had heard stories of people getting trampled in these American cities, all pushing and shoving for the best deals that might be pinched in the back of the store. When my Grandma came home from a trip to the US on this blessed day, she was sporting a big, black shiner and glasses that were taped together and our concern hit a high note. Learning that she took a tumble on the curb at the border lessened our worries of Grandma shopping in the States.
Really, I don't know why we should ever worry about this Grandma. She is able to carry more bags than my sister and I combined and is generally referred to as our mom, not our Grandmother. She would never wake up like those "crazy people who line up at 0300" but at 0400 she had said the lines were thinning as she sidled up to get the best deal on boots in town. Energy flows in this lady's blood and sometimes I wish that it had somehow flowed down to me.
Grandma and her posse stay in the same hotel year after year on this weekend and would book far in advance, looking for that deal that was out there. Coolers were packed in their trucks alongside their suitcases, to bring back grated cheese, blocks of cheese and basically any kind of cheese that was cheap as chips. It wasn't uncommon for there to be ten cake mixes tucked in the vehicle, and it was then that I realized that some things might be coming home that wouldn't always get used, but the fact that they were basement bargain's placed them at home in Grandma's pantry.
Now, these folks who would travel down together were bargain savvy. After a full day of shopping for ingredients to make the finest Christmas crackers around (that of course couldn't be found in Canada), these gals would make their own meals in the evening. They wouldn't just cook to save cash, but because you could bet your bottom dollar that they could cook better than most restaurants in town. Cards were played in the evenings and the clock would tick until it was time to get up and hit repeat on their day.
The woman who put on miles with Grandma, that have a few decades on me, make me long for a small fraction of their energy. I wish for their incredible deal shopping ways and hey, if we're making wishes that aren't worth a plugged nickel, you might as well throw me some cooking skills too.
For Black Friday next year, Montana watch out! Grandma is coming for you and I might just be along in her shadow, puffing away to try and keep up. We'll eat you out of your deals and drink up your southern hospitality--feel free to head north for Boxing Day to probably pay twice what you do for your jeans in the south, but you'd be welcome just the same.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
A big thank you to Libbie at The Middlest Sister for sending in a special story, in her own words of someone who served-her father. If you have a photo or a few lines of someone's story you would like to tell who has served for your country, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Carlson is my Dad. He survived living in a home with his wife Cheri and three girls. He has always made sure all his girls were completely taken care of & spoiled a bit too :) Even today I have four kids (5 in a month) and an amazing husband but wouldn't you know my Dad is still trying to take care of us all. I never leave his house without finding a case of diapers, a few boxes of cereal or even a huge package of toilet paper in the back seat of my car (and I am there all the time!) He is a loving Dad & I couldn't be more proud of him.
One thing I am very proud of him for is his service in the U.S. Army. He served from October '63-October '65. After PostalSchool in Indianahe served overseas in Verona, Italy. Here are some of his stories I really enjoyed:
My Dad worked the Army Postal Service in Italy. He worked the counter and guarded the mail as he picked it up from Milan. "All the military mail was handled by Americans. Even payroll. We would go pick up cash for payroll with no guards and no guns. We were driven around by crazy Italian drivers. I was in three accidents while I was there. I delivered a lot of Dear John letters. Almost every solider got one eventually"
"We could not make the trip from Milan to Verona, in the Deuce& amp; a Half, without filling up so we would stop at this one fruit stand to pour the gas in. We would always buy the cherries during cherry season. But every time we got back to the base we would all have diarrhea because the farmers used human manure. The cherries were so good that we didn't even care and bought them every time."
"On one trip the Italian driver was talking to the fruit stand owner and he told him how I was a good solider, that I never fell asleep like all the other American GIs and took my job to guard the mail seriously. He told them what a hard worker I was. The fruit stand owner rounded up his five daughters and lined them up. He told me to pick one." (My Dad was smiling big as he recalled that. I asked him if he picked one but he said no:)
"During a drill one night they told me to run back to the base for something. It was completely dark outside & I ran smack into a barbed wire fence. Thank goodness I had been holding my rifle up, it took most of the shock but I cut my upper lip badly and had to be sewn up by a plastic surgeon. It is the only time in my life I had to grow a mustache because I couldn't shave until it healed. I looked a lot older with it."
"One night soon after I was walking a girl home from the service club and I asked her, 'Where have you been all my life?'
She said, 'Probably not born for half of it.' I was really only 23 but it was my mustache."
"Vietnam was just starting up when I was getting out. We were each required to give up one uniform because they were recruiting heavily for Vietnamand they needed more uniforms for the incoming soldiers."
"Veronawas beautiful. It is the home of Romeo and Juliet's balcony, has sidewalks made of marble, and boasts the 2nd largest coliseum in Europe." He actually just returned this week from visiting Italy, and even Verona where he served, again with my mom.
My Dad had many more memories that I am so thankful to have written down. I wouldn't have thought to write down his stories without Cheyenne's blog here, and now I am going to make a keepsake for our family! Thanks Cheyenne for letting me share my very special Dad with you!!!