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Archive for the ‘Comfort Food’ Category

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Who can deny that some of life’s most memorable events are spontaneous—those unplanned occasions which we would not have dreamed up in a million years?  Such was a recent serendipitous party in our home, with our granddaughter Leah and her four children.

They dropped in at 3:45 p. m. on the way home after Leah had gathered up the older children at school, to pick up (now 10 year old) Olivia’s birthday gift.  There was no question in my mind, that the visit would be short.  Leah puts in long hours with her family, with helping out at the children’s school—plus riding shotgun on her very endearing but rambunctious 3 year old, Carter.  Still ahead in a long day for this sweet family was a 25 minute ride home, dinner for the children and Daddy Jeff who would soon be at home waiting, and then all the evening rituals—homework, baths, bedtime stories, etc.  (After all these years, I still remember when!)

Olivia’s birthday gift was a St. Vinnee’s mint condition treasure:  a cookbook with 175 recipes for cookies made with cake mixes.  How fun for a 10 year old girl!  And, as it turned out, fun for an 83 year old great-grandpa—my Joe!

Joe was almost as enthusiastic about the cook book as Olivia was.  Right there on the spot he announced, “We are going to make peanut butter cookies NOW!  Although not a gambling woman, I would safely put money on the hunch that Leah’s reaction and mine were in sync.  Yikes!  Late in the day.  Tired.  And, in the beautiful words of poet Robert Frost, “. . . miles to go before I sleep.”

But both Leah and I realized that a spur of the moment cookie party would provide a signature memory for the children—and adults as well.  So into the kitchen went Joe, Olivia, and younger sister, Brynn (in red) who likes to be in the center of any action.

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Over the years, Joe has focused on being a wonderful Husband, Dad, Grandpa, and now Great-Grandpa.  He has cared for us diligently and lovingly.  While he has worked hard at bread-earning, I naturally have tended the affairs of the kitchen.  Joe is very adept at some kitchen jobs.  He makes coffee, measures the carbs in his breakfast cereal (he is diabetic so carbs matter), makes wonderful peanut butter and jam sandwiches, mixes a fantastic soy milk chai for me every night, micro-waves soup or left-over dinners, and sometimes creates yummy Swedish meatballs.

But baking?  The mad search for utensils amid requests of “Where’s this, where’s that?” was too humorous.  We no longer have a gargantuan Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter; all cakes are mixed with a 5-speed hand blender which hides in a  round-about cupboard between assignments.  All dry ingredients live in decorative tins scattered hither and thither; I automatically memorize the contents by the designs on the tins—but since Joe normally has no need for stowed dry ingredients, he has not learned the code.

Thus Joe looked to the dining room table for the small amount of sugar needed in the recipe.  I just happened to wander into the kitchen a split second before he dumped Sweet and Low into the mix—thinking it was real sugar.  I have Sweet and Low in a sugar bowl on our table, for our daughter Judy’s coffee.  How was Joe supposed to know it wasn’t the real thing?

Understandably Joe had not thought of the fact that cookies take a bit of time to prepare, given the rolling of balls—and in the peanut butter cookie instance, criss-crossing with a fork.  Upon my mentioning that the old, battle-seasoned cookie sheets would need a covering of oil, I again forayed into the kitchen just as a pan of cookies was oven-ready—and the raw cookies were swimming in olive oil.

Joe is amazingly proficient at cleaning up as he goes; for this reason I never shudder when he does KP.  In college he earned his meals as a “Pot and Pan” boy, and to this day he loves the challenge of washing up.

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While history was being made in the kitchen, Leah and the boys—Lucas and Carter—played a game at the living room coffee table.

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Well, no one can make cookies without immediately testing them to make sure they are “fit to eat”.  So we are right back to the first photo:

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The coffee table was cleared for a party with cookies and milk.  Delicious!  And thanks to a wonderfully imaginative Great-Grandpa, a good time was had by all.  Joe has always been loaded for fun.  That’s one of the countless reasons why I love him!

Serendipity!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

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My friend Karen and I visit a lot on the phone.  Such a nice old-fashioned means of communication!  In fact, the only communication venues that can compare with a congenial phone chat are:  a face to face visit and a real letter via USPS.  Karen and I enjoy these as well. 

Karen and I catch up on our family events, and we chat about gracious, homey things such as our gardens* and our home decor.  Both of us relish an occasional afternoon spent in antique malls on rainy days, and on the local rummage sale circuits when the weather is fair.  We collect all and everything that catches the eye, warms the heart, and can be obtained at a bargain price—and we love to share the news of our latest finds.

Yesterday Karen and I were talking about how we love to be at home—baking, scrubbing, dusting, rearranging, and creating vignettes of beauty around the home.  We never tire of our homes, and neither of us looks at homemaking as a chore, but rather a supreme privilege. 

Being a keeper at home—along with nurturing a family—is the most creative occupation on earth.  Our loved ones flourish in an environment that is relaxing, delightful, fun, and (in my case) funky.  People love to visit a home where the lady of the house is fulfilled and happy.  Words need not be spoken, as the atmosphere says it all!  Home is an artist’s canvas.  When the artist is contented the home exudes beauty, originality, and joy! 

Nearly forty years ago our son Eric—14 years old at that time—made a classic statement which makes me smile to this day.  Eric said (with the characteristic fondness that mellow sons have for their mothers), “Mom, you are such a homey simpleton!”

I realized that the statement, from Eric’s perspective, was a tremendous compliment.  He knew that I was in euphoria at home:  arranging vignettes of beauty, reading old books, watering houseplants, raising cats and dogs, baking bread, and stirring up huge pots of chili for Eric and our other children to share with their friends.

After I finished laughing about Eric’s loving apprisal all those years ago, I explained to him that a “simpleton” was the classic town idiot of folklore and fairy tales.  I still chuckle today when I think of it!  But maybe it’s no joke!  The “world” does view those of us who love to be at home as “simpletons”.

Homey simpleton indeed!  The best job description on earth!  How could anyone want to be anything else?  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

*Karen is a master gardener whose gardens, in the city of Waukesha, are unlike any I’ve ever seen anywhere.  Walking through her paths is like a trip to England. 

If all goes as planned, photos of Karen’s gardens will be featured on Northern Reflections in a few weeks.  Things are just beginning to get revved up around here, gardenwise.

And finally, below you will see some of the main reasons why HOME is so wonderful!  This photo was taken at a family member’s home—but these treasures visit us a lot.  We are all at HOME at each other’s homes!  🙂

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Who would ever think that one of my favorite foods would have such a currently infamous connotation?  Every day I eliminate “spam” on my computer, some of it terribly ugly and some of it simply a matter of blog readers trying to peddle their wares.  But electronic spam does not in any way lesson my love for that Hormel product first launched in 1937. 

Although much maligned by today’s “black beans, couscous, and chicken breast but no other meat” crowd, Hormel’s SPAM® is and always will be an American classic!

I grew up in the 1930s and 40s when good nutrition was a GIVEN!  The food groups were introduced to us in kindergarten and upheld by our mothers in the kitchen—yes mothers like June Cleever, with APRONS!

Granted, we didn’t have the out of season fruit and vegetables that are available in our supermarkets today.  (I love eating raspberries in March!)  But our aproned mothers canned tomatoes, peas, beans, beets, carrots, corn, peaches, pears, and plums for us to enjoy all winter.  Potatoes, squash, onions, and apples were kept intact in sand, in a cold cellar way beyond autumn.  As the apples grew old, they were quickly batched into the world’s best applesauce. 

We did have fresh oranges and grapefruit—not just in our Christmas stockings but for the weeks after Christmas.  I never knew of anyone in our town getting scurvy.

All winter long, we had hot cereal for breakfast—oatmeal with raisons, Cream of Wheat® with dates, Ralstons®, etc.  We put sugar in our cereal.  Lots of sugar! 

We’d have laughed ourselves loony, if we’d heard that sugar might make children “hyper-active”.  Children had chores to do.  And we had decent, highly academic schools which demanded completed homework assignments.  There wasn’t any time or energy left for hyper-activity! 

(There was such a thing as naughtiness which occasionally surfaced in children, myself included.  But no psycho-babble was applied to our behavior.  Naughtiness was dealt with swiftly and efficiently, and we were given something to think about!  Sugar on our cereal—and the fact that we nearly always had pie, cake, cookies, or ice cream after dinner—had nothing to do with our behavior.  In fact, sugar always made me feel and act sweeter!  🙂 )

And then there was meat.  Meat was rationed in WW II, and my mother was careful with her coupons.  We had our main meat meal on Sundays—a pot roast, baked chicken, ham, pork roast, leg of lamb, according to availability.  This feast was stretched into the coming week:  meat pie on Monday evening with the meat, vegies, and potatoes with gravy baked to bubbling in my Mom’s home made crust—followed by soup from the meat bones and casseroles on subsequent week days.

Near the weekend when the meat pie, soup, and casseroles were gone, we had SPAM®.  How wonderful it was, heated in a skillet with a bit of brown sugar and mustard—and served with scalloped potatoes and hot vegies. 

As well as nourishing us at home during those years, SPAM® fueled the allied soldiers and provided sustenance for relief in ravished Europe after the war. 

The Hormel website states:  “Over the years, the SPAM® Family of Products has made itself known around the world, winning over the hearts of soldiers, world leaders, chefs, kids and parents alike.  In fact, Gracie Allen, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and Monty Python all have sung praises of the SPAM® Brand.”   http://www.spam.com/ 

I also sing the praises of SPAM®, and serve it at least once a month.  Heated to a crisp in my iron skillet and served with hot buttered green beans, a fresh spinach salad (with sweet peppers, oranges, and bananas), and warm dinner rolls, that meal is mighty comforting.  In my opinion, it’s worlds better than black beans, couscous, and white chicken—or anything equally hip and trendy!

Not welcome on my computer, but definitely celebrated on my plate:  that’s SPAM®!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

P.S.  I realize and respect that some highly sensitive individuals cannot eat any processed food, and some folks cannot tolerate much sugar.  My husband is diabetic, so we only do desserts on special occasions—and then very sparingly. 

But moderation works for most of us.  If we eat a well balanced main meal, dessert can be good for body and soul.  Even a diabetic can enjoy a small serving of dessert if he or she decides to forego some other carbs in the meal.  Life is all about choices!

Note:  Here is a family favorite:  In your old-fashioned hand meat grinder, grind up one can of SPAM® and one/half of a large box of VELVEETA® cheese. 

Mix these ingredients, and spread on open face buns (whole wheat buns are good).  Broil until golden and bubbly.  Serve with a fruit and vegie salad and sweet pickle relish. 

Who in the world would ever want to hang out at a fast food restaurant, when that—or any other good meal—was prepared at home by an actual mother in an apron?

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Although we still spend a lot of time outdoors, especially throughout the beautiful Autumn, cooler weather draws us inside as well.  Joe and love I being at home.  There’s room for everything we enjoy doing, right here in the cozy corners of our little condo which resembles an English country cottage. 

I’ve switched from iced tea to hot tea.  An English teapot and cups and saucers are ever ready on our living room coffee table (where coffee is served as well).  I love to hostess tea gatherings, fiber sessions, poetry readings, and afternoons of book or art talk.  Joe and I thrive on lunch or dinner company as well, and our fall and winter soup* suppers are special.

Now that the heat and humidity are behind me, one of my spinning wheels is constantly before me—and I’m producing more gorgeous woollen yarn for wearable art.  How lovely to spin away a rainy afternoon beside the fireplace**, while drinking Earl Grey loose tea steeped in an English teapot!

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Dorothy:  “There’s no place like home.” 

So join me, for a mini-stroll through our “Heaven on earth”. 

My mother would be proud of me.  I practice nearly every day!

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My gallery of wearable fiber art is always available for viewing.

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Our pretty kitchen!  Lots of wonderful things happen here!

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Our great-grandchildren’s play corner features this gorgeous doll house which Joe built from a kit years ago.  Completing the doll house with all the individual “cedar shakes” took him longer than it had taken him to add a room onto our home.

The boys and girls love the doll house.  When they visit, it is theirs to arrange, rearrange, redecorate, or whatever.  Not shown in the photo is the rest of the play corner, with a farm and loads of animals which find their way into the doll house.  (My toy dog collection resides there all the time.)

Also in the play corner the little ones enjoy Lincoln Logs, play dishes, many Teddy bears, and loads of wonderful books!  Bring on the children.

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If you are ever in the neighborhood, please stop in for tea!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

*For years when we lived up north, we dined at a restaurant which featured sweet and sour cabbage soup.  It was a thin dinner soup, and I purposed to concoct my own thick sweet and sour cabbage soup.  (I make the kind of soups you can almost prop a spoon in.)

By Googling “sweet and sour cabbage soup” I found the constants—the sweet and sour typical proportions for a medium sized crock pot full of soup.  But many recipes contain cider vinegar.  I wasn’t happy with inhaling vinegar fumes while eating soup.  Finally I latched on to lemon juice—the most wonderful “sour” of all.  Here is my sweet and sour cabbage soup:

In a crock pot, cook overnight (14 to 18 hours on low power) a boneless pork tenderloin or boneless beef pot roast in a cup of 100% apple juice, 1 or 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of chicken base, 1 tablespoon of beef base, plenty of white pepper (it has to be white pepper for that wonderful afterglow in the mouth!), salt, and a few shakes of MAGGI®.

The next day, tear the meat apart with forks until shredded.  Remove two thirds of the meat and freeze for a later meal of meat and rice, sloppy Joes, or whatever. 

Keep the remaining 1/3rd of the meat in the crock pot.  Add 3 capfuls of REAL LEMON®, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, more white pepper and salt, a bit more MAGGI®, about one third or one half of a shredded and chopped cabbage, some chopped up carrots, a bit of tomato (not too much—just enough for color and interest), and 3 or 4 tiny chopped up green onion heads.  Add 1 or 2 handfuls of noodles, or 2 or 3 cut up baby reds.  Cook on low power all day—at least 8 hours.

This soup, with homemade or RHODES® bread, jam or honey, and fresh fruit, is about as close to Heaven on earth (foodwise) as you can get! 

But I say the same thing about pea soup, bean soup, minestrone soup, and that amazing post-Thanksgiving turkey soup (made from the boiling the turkey bones, left-over meat and skin, etc.) which we enjoy all winter!  🙂 

**Our “fireplace” consists of 4 behind-the-scene light bulbs over simulated logs.  It glows and “flames” like a fireplace, and also has a heat setting for nippy early Autumn mornings.  These gems come in many sizes, and are available at Menard’s.  The one shown above has an attractive surround, with a mantle for my collection of interesting and funky clocks.

We have a smaller Menard’s “fireplace” in our dining area.  How mellow is that!

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We have just returned from a mini-vacation at our Northern home, and I am a bit euphoric over warm spring and the beauty of Wisconsin! 

Up North we thrilled to the loons, the clacking of frogs all night in our bay, the full moon rising over the river as viewed through our large bedroom window, a thunder storm, and other natural wonders. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we did the annual rummage tour around our lake and into the town of Phillips.  Yes we are still rummaging, and probably will be as long as we can navigate from garage to yard.   I found scenic paintings to cover some of the walls in our home up there, walls which were denuded by our move to Southern Wisconsin.   Bare walls are a huge No-No in my decorating agenda!

I also found a book of letters and journal entries by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—a beautiful writer with a beautiful soul! 

But the best part of the rummage circuit in our Northern neighborhood is VISITING.  Everywhere we stop to browse through second-hand treasures, there are friends to enjoy.  Small town and rural shopping is a high social event, one which abounds in joie de vie! 

Just like “old times”, Joe and I had our Friday fish fry at the Phillips Cafe, and Sunday dinner there as well—with extra gravy on the great mashed potatoes.  (We rarely do gravy at home, but when we are out what a treat!)

We went to church, visited with friends, and it was like we’d never left.  Dylan got to run free as he always did—never leaving the area around the house, while experiencing all the exciting scents and sounds of the northwoods and guarding us from potential wolves and bears. 

To crown the vacation, we came home a different way—angling down Highway 16 from Portage to our home in Nashotah which is right off 16, rather than taking the usual I-90/94 which is always loaded with traffic to Madison, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

We took “the road less traveled”, and it was wonderful—dipping and winding through farms and that still vibrant Wisconsin institution, The Small Town.  We arrived at our door in Southern Wisconsin, minus the stress that normally characterizes the last 2 hours of the trip.

Now we are at home in Southern Wisconsin.  Our neighbor upstairs is no longer gardening his ample space along the garage wall and he has turned it over to us!  This is a sunny garden, perfect for tomatoes and sun loving flowers and herbs.  Yesterday I weeded out the plot and planted tomatoes—plus clematis against the wall, coneflowers, bugbane, sweet basil, and a couple of unknown-to-me beauties.  Today I will fill in with my all time favorite annual—snapdragons.

Again and again I’m aware of the fact that we are contentedly “at home” wherever we go, wherever we are!  As long as there are people to love, a book in hand, and something to nurture (pets and/or plants) or make (a knitted garment, picture, or poem) I am delightedly at home!

Overflowing cups!  🙂

©2010, Margaret L. Been

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Tomorrow Joe and I plan to take our daughter, Judy, and her husband for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant–Casa del Rio, in Waukesha.  Three weeks ago today Judy was in ICU following a cardiac arrest.

Yesterday Judy and her husband took a batch of yummy homemade cookies to the Waukesha Fire Department, as a “thank you” to the Rescue Squad instrumental in saving Judy’s life.  There it was discovered that Judy was without a heart beat for 15 minutes, not the 8 or 10 minutes which we had originally thought.

Fifteen minutes!  And now this woman is home reading books, welcoming company, and eager to get out and do things.  Mexican restaurants are among her favorite things to do, along with cruising local antique malls–which Judy and I expect to do together soon.  The Waukesha Rescue Squad was on the ball.  But only God can restore an individual who has checked out for 15 minutes!  It’s truly AMAZING GRACE!

In view of Judy’s experience, and the recent disaster in Haiti, I’m especially aware of how life can change drastically in minutes or even seconds.  This awareness is currently underscored by a novel I’m reading:  THE TREMBLING HILLS, by Phyllis A. Whitney–set in San Francisco in 1906.  The author devotes several well-researched chapters to the violent earthquake that wracked the San Francisco Bay area in April of that year.  Always, when I read historical novels or documentaries, I do my own research via GOOGLE–to assess what I’ve read in the novel, and also to learn more about the period and subject.

Here is a clip from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906:  “At almost precisely 5:12 a.m. local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco.  Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking, which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada.”  Bill Ellsworth 

The website lists the following 1906 California earthquake statistics:  lives lost–over 3,000; buildings destroyed–28,000; monetary loss–more than $400 million.  Much loss was due to fires that raged in the wake of the earthquake.

Only God knows what will occur next month, next week, tomorrow, or even a few seconds from now.  Again and again I think of the motto:  “Life is fragile.  Handle with prayer!”

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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“The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.”

from The First Snowfall, by James Russell Lowell

Our first significant snowfall of the season began in the gloaming yesterday, and it was busy all night.  Now at 10:00 a. m. the next day, the treasure from Heaven continues to heap field and highway with its “silence deep and white”.

I’ll never get over the thrill of the first snowfall, and many that follow–until March, that is.  Then, like most of us here in the north, I’m ready for a change.

In the book of Job, God challenges the suffering Job to consider that He–the Lord of the Universe–is sovereign.  God asks Job, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow . . . .?”                 (Job 38:22a)

Job understood God’s message of sovereignty, and so can we thousands of years later.  Now puny man can manufacture surrogate snow in the limited area of a ski run, but he cannot command great volumes of the genuine article to fall from Heaven non-stop for hours or days.  Only God can do that. 

What are the treasures of the snow?  Many answers surface:  the infinite creativity and variety of each snowflake as viewed through a microscope; the insulation of snow on plants, protecting them from winter’s below zero temperatures; the beauty of snow capped branches and bird feeders; the sense of  wonder which all but the dullest hearts must feel when traipsing through pristine powder in a world transformed by white; the fun of winter sports, experienced by many of us for years–and even in later years, via halcyon memories.

Perhaps the treasure I appreciate most is the slower pace imposed by snow.  We move more slowly, drive more slowly, and rest more.  We do special, festive things when it snows.  Today I mixed up pancake batter while Joe walked Baby Dylan.  We lingered over our pancakes, and then moved our coffee to a favorite spot beside the Christmas tree. 

Joe and I are never very hurried during these pleasant retirement years, but when a snowfall of at least 9 inches descends on us we slow down from andante to adagio.  What better way to live when surrounded by that “silence deep and white”?!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved 

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