Saying Goodbye

butch5A dear member of our family passed away during the night. His name was Butchie, and he was a cat. He hadn’t been well for about two weeks and when we first noticed that his eye didn’t look good and he was sort of listless we took him off to the vet. To make a long story short, after various tests and shots and pills, he just wasn’t getting better and finally, about four days ago, he stopped eating and became very weak and could hardly walk. That is why I found it strange that he had made it up the stairs to the second floor of our house and went to sleep for the last time outside our bedroom door. That is where Curt found him this morning. You know, even when you are expecting something like this it still takes you by surprise and the tears can’t be stopped.

We got him as a kitten from the Humane Society 17 years ago and promptly lost him the first day. We searched the house, the first floor, the second floor, the basement. No kitty. At the time he didn’t have a permanent name so mostly we called kitty, or Snowball ( ha ha, black cat named Snowball) or Kuro Neko ( black cat in Japanese). We went outside, all over the yard, down the road…calling, looking. Finally we went back into the house, he had to be here. I think it was my son, Nathan, who finally located him behind a bunch of boxes and the parts of a dismantled loom in my studio. Waaay far back, underneath, in the dark, a little black smudge. Later he officially became Butchie.IMG_0087

He soon got used to this crazy family who had taken him in and became, as we liked to say, a “good dog”. Butchie would come when you called (Butcha, Butcha,Butcha), he would cuddle on your lap, he was a food freak, he would be constantly underfoot from following you around. Never aloof. He liked to sit on the washer in the laundry room (right off the kitchen where he could see any food falling to the floor) or “help” out on my work table or on the computer keys while I was typing.butHe was a keen observer of nature.

butch&chipbutch7He had a cuddle buddy in Zelda, who we got just a bit later.

Butchie and the Zel

Butchie and the Zel

He was a member of the family and as much as he drove us crazy at times, he was much-loved.

Butchie and Nathan

Butchie and Nathan

He will be missed. Hope there are lots of jingle balls, catnip and tuna treats in cat heaven sweetie.

Goodbye old pal.

Goodbye old pal.

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Lucky or Unlucky?

This morning when I came down to join the living, the TV was on, as usual, and one of the numerous hosts of the Today Show was interviewing someone about raising kids, growing up, nurturing…something like that. The line I heard that made me stop and listen was, ” I was lucky to grow up with a Mom who cooked everyday.”

That bothered me. I listened a bit and the gist was her Mom was a stay at home Mom, she actually prepared food and didn’t just heat it up and she learned a lot from her. And that’s wonderful. But it still hit me wrong. It sounded like if you didn’t have a Mom or were a Mom who cooked everyday you were somehow unlucky or not raised right. I guess I personally was one of the “lucky” ones because my Mom not only worked but as far as I remember cooked everyday. But that was the 50’s and there were no microwaves or a million takeout places and though my Dad “grilled” and occasionally prepared food, he didn’t “cook.”  Frankly for my sister and I, the most exciting special dinner for us was on New Year’s Eve. My Mom usually was working because she was a banquet waitress and that was the night people were out eating and partying. We were home with Dad and got to eat TV dinners that night, which we had picked out earlier in the week. Wow, we thought that was a gourmet meal.

Swanson Turkey Dinner, one of my favorites

Swanson Turkey Dinner, one of my favorites

But in my own home, even though I can cook, I am not THE cook. Sure, I make a mac & cheese favorite, my meat loaf and potato salad are pretty good and if we have dessert it was probably made by me. But Curt’s work schedule was always more flexible than mine and he was usually home first. He wasn’t afraid to cook, liked to cook and wasn’t the kind of guy to wait till his wife came home to “fix dinner.” So he put dinner together most nights. By the time our son was born, Curt was pretty much the established cook in the house. And as Nathan got older, Curt was thrilled that he would eat foods I wouldn’t touch, like fish. The menu expanded and on the night I worked they had Boy’s Fish Night. So was my son lucky or unlucky because his Mom was an occasional cook?

I hope someday when Nathan writes his autobiography he tells the world, ” I was so lucky to have a Dad who cooked everyday.”

The boys anticipating "Fish Night"

The boys anticipating “Fish Night”

 

Got a boo boo?

When I was a kid and I got a scraped knee or a minor cut, out came the mercurochrome. Part of the application included blowing on the wound, to cool off the burn once the mercurochrome was dabbed on. Oucheewawa!

NOTE TO JEANNE:::::  Mercurochrome didn’t sting nearly as much as Iodine!!!!!  that was a real ouchee!!!!!   Love, Curt

Bactine was another item in the medicine cabinet used mainly for sunburn and minor scrapes that didn’t bleed a lot. There was Vicks VapoRub that went on my chest when I had a congested cold and finally a shot of whiskey in some hot tea was the soothing drink I was given when the cramps from my period sent me into the fetal position. (it put me to sleep, the best medicine of all).

But when we had a burn, out came Gramma’s Salve. Well it probably really was Uncle Henry’s Salve. He was Gram’s brother and when my Mom’s Dad died (Grampa), she and her brother and Gram moved into his house. This was their magic cure-all but nobody ever knew what was in it. This past Christmas my Mother (she’s 88) brought over the jar she still has to show my son. Brownish in color, in a Wyler’s Beef Bullion jar, with a hand written label that said,

” SALVE – USE SPARINGLY. COVER WITH A BAND-AID” 

It looked nasty. We opened and took a whiff. Sort of medicinal, sort of industrial greasy, sort of animal fatty but not rancid, sort of what?????  Hard to identify.

Gramma's Salve

Gramma’s Salve

My Mother said when the salve got low Uncle Henry would go down to the butcher shop to get it refilled. That might explain the animal fat smell, maybe. But whatever the butcher added is lost in the past. This jar she brought at Christmas must have been over fifty years old because Uncle Henry is long gone and my Mom is no spring chicken. But she swears by it, says it has taken the sting out of burns and healed them quickly. Cuts and scrapes too. I do remember, far in the back of my brain, situations where I was the recipient of its healing powers but I am not able to give you any details.

After the holidays Curt went off on one of his junking days. That’s where he and his friend Carol, spend the day hitting up flea markets and antique stores. He came home with this.

Dream Salve

Dream Salve

The printed can said:

WONDERFUL DREAM SALVE. Hannah D. McDonald
Prepared only by
Wonderful Dream Salve Co.
Detroit, Mich. U.S.A.

Price 30 Cts.
An effective remedy if used as directed
The Great Healer
FOR MAN or BEAST

For Burns, Scalds, Cuts, Bruises, Fever Sores, Chronic Sores, Chilblains, Felons, Ivy Poison, Bites, Scald Head Barber’s Itch, Etc,

Directions: – Always spread the salve on oiled silk or wax paper and apply.  Cleanse the sore and renew every 12 hours – See special directions on circular for various uses.

Wow! Chilblains and felons (those little tears at the edge of your fingernail) and that pesky scald head barber’s itch! And we can only guess at the ‘various uses’ since the circular was no longer in the box. We opened it up and there were tiny traces of something brown, it smelled medicinal, industrial greasy, animal fatty, maybe. Interesting.

So my questions are, did Hannah know the butcher, did they go into business together, or did she seduce him and then run off to Detroit with the miracle formula for salve? Was Uncle Henry really visiting the butcher or was he going to Hannah’s house? Was Uncle Henry and Hannah an item? We will never know but we still have the salve. Lucky us.

It was 40 Years Ago Today

Look at these poor souls. I bet they don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of…. Do they even have jobs? Probably heading home after a long day in the field picking someone elses crops. Or maybe they’re a couple of hippies about to get in their VW van and head off to Woodstock. They might even live in the van and it sure looks like they sleep in their clothes.

J&C1981

Would you believe these two own a house, a truck and both are employed? She’s a librarian and he’s an art professor. She specializes in fiction, does reader advisory, his main area is ceramics. Yes, they used to own a red VW van and they do own the Woodstock album. But that’s about as close to being hippies as they get. And they pick their own veggies not someone elses. I think they just put in an asparagus patch. For awhile they raised sheep. sheep

I’m sure by now you’ve guessed that those two are us, in 1981, standing in our backyard after a day of tearing out something or repairing another thing or planting vegetables and flowers. Could I be any skinnier? Wouldn’t mind having some of that figure back. Curt has a bit of a hair thing going on there and it was red back then. We were married in 1973, moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1978 because Curt got hired at the University of Wisconsin  teaching ceramics. I got a job at the Brown County Library in January of ’79 and we bought this house in May of the same year.

My folks (Minnesota) and Curt’s (Western New York) made a few pilgrimages to Wisconsin to help us with repairs and remodeling and this picture was taken at one of those visits. It’s the end result of a day’s work sitting at the road for the garbage guys.house2

Today we celebrate 40 years together. We’ve raised a son, worked 30 years at our jobs and retired. We still are working on the house (it never ends) but now our garbage has to fit into tidy bins or the sanitation workers won’t pick it up. Gee, I miss those garbage guys.

How are we celebrating? Well Friday night we went to a movie and Saturday was dinner out (with appetizers, bottle of wine, dessert, the whole shabang!) and today, the actual date of our nuptials? Curt is going to a flea market with a friend and I’m either going to another movie or just putting my feet up and reading. Newlyweds would just be crazy about being together, and definitely doing something together on the actual date. After 40 years, you can do whatever you want and no one gets crazy. Because at the end of the day, there we are, together, sharing what we did, who we saw, what we read.

Now, to be honest, the 40th is still a big milestone and we have decided it needed a bit more than dinner and a movie. So in September we’ve got a trip to China planned. Hope they let old hippies in to their country.

June 16, 1973

June 16, 1973

Ma’s Canned Pears

Canned Pears

Canned Pears

Last week was Easter and we regaled you with our salmon and pork chop duel. However I neglected to finish off the post with the dessert we had that day. Desserts are rare around here. The only time we really get serious about dessert is when we have guests. For the most part our desserts are never interesting enough to share. I’ll get some Ben & Jerry’s sorbet and add a cookie or two. Or maybe it will be a bowl of fruit with agave syrup drizzled on top but this was Easter and we wanted to do something special. Curt remembered we had some canned pears dated 2010, still within a safe time frame.

We do not have pear trees but Curt’s folks had a pear tree which was very prolific. Curt’s Dad, Harold, always had a huge garden and Curt’s Mom, Jane, was a canner. In the fall when everything was getting ripe there was always a flurry of jars and lids and rings and hot water baths and pressure cooking going on in her kitchen. This had lessened over the years because the four kids had grown up and moved out a long time ago so there weren’t as many mouths to feed. Also in her last years Jane developed some dementia so it wasn’t  a wise idea to have her coordinating the incredible process of peeling and coring and blanching and fire and water that resulted in a pantry stocked with fruit and vegetables. However, they still couldn’t see all that good produce go to waste and probably together still did a few quarts of chowder and dill pickles. Harold died in August 2010. Curt’s sister, Mary, moved in with Mom until a suitable living arrangement could be found. In the meantime the garden kept ripening and the trees kept producing their fruit. The pear tree was loaded. Jane insisted on canning the pears and Curt’s sister had no choice but to join in, supervise and basically do it all since Jane was becoming increasingly forgetful.

The following April (2011) Jane, the canner joined Harold, the gardener and the children cleaned up the estate and divided up the more recent canned food, which included the pears.

When we opened the sealed jars last week, the pears were firm, had good color and taste. Curt wondered if, like a pineapple upside-down cake, there might be a pear equivalent and sure enough the internet came through again. Thus I give you:

Caramel Pear Upside Down Cake (modified from a modified recipe)

Ingredients:
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1/4 C unsalted butter
2-3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced (or a pint and a half of Jane’s canned pears)
1 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 C granulated sugar
3 medium-sized eggs
1/2 C plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C vegetable oil

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ cake pan, then put a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom.

In a small pan, melt the butter and brown sugar over a medium heat. While the butter and sugar are melting, arrange the pears in the pan. Once the butter and sugar are melted, carefully pour over the pears.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, yogurt, vanilla and oil. When the wet ingredients are well combined, gently mix them into the dry. Do not over mix.

Pour the batter over the pears and caramel topping. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Allow to cool in the pan completely.
cake

Now the tricky part. When cool, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it over to release it from the pan. Peal off the parchment paper. If for some reason a pear sticks to the paper, gently remove and place it back where its supposed to be. No one will know the difference. Ours didn’t stick!

Wa-La!

Wa-La!

Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream. Thanks Jane and Mary, the cake was delicious.

Let’s Eat! Sunday Dinner Follow-up

The wait is over. Here is what we did with the salmon, the loin chop and the rest of the meal.

My Mom is ready to eat.

My Mom is ready to eat.

The salmon was marinated in charmoula sauce and then cooked on the grill.

salmon w/ charmoula

salmon w/ charmoula

Charmoula is a tart marinade for fish which we use on eggplant. Today we used it on fish.

CHARMOULA

1 clove garlic
1 tsp.sweet paprika
pinch hot paprika
3/4 tsp  ground cumin
3 Tbls finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbls finely chopped parsley
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk  all of the ingredients together and drizzle about half over the salmon. Reserve the remainder for the table. Let salmon sit 30 minutes. Curt grilled the salmon on a plank.

Fresh from the grill

Fresh from the grill

Along with the salmon we had asparagus, roasted tomatoes, deviled eggs and cheddar popovers. I was the  person assigned the starch for the meal and I naturally started thinking potatoes, rice or pasta. But sitting in Barnes and Noble, drinking coffee and browsing magazines I came upon this popover recipe. Too cheap to buy the magazine, I scrounged through my purse for a piece of paper and copied it out.  Popovers are a bit scary for me because I never think they are going to poof up but these poofed fine even if they weren’t as cheesy as I would have liked.

Hot popovers

Hot popovers

CHEDDAR POPOVERS

4 large eggs and 2 egg whites
1 3/4 C  milk
1 1/2 C  flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 C  finely grated xtra sharp cheddar
2 Tbls butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put empty popover pans in the oven.

Meanwhile whisk together eggs, whites, milk, flour and salt. Stir in cheddar, set aside.

After the pans have been in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, remove pans, brush cups with butter and put in batter. Return to oven. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. Cut a small slit in each popover and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove, serve hot. Good as is, better, spread with butter. ( Note: With the cheese my popovers were pretty brown after the initial 25 minutes so I turned off the oven for the additional 10 minutes. Also I had to loosen them with a knife to get them out of the pan so put in plenty of butter of maybe a non-stick spray)

But where you ask is that huge smoked pork loin chop? It was fully cooked so a quick heat through in a pan had it ready in minutes. Truth be told, Curt was going to put it on the grill with the salmon but he forgot. Lucky  for him it didn’t take long on the stove. It was great and plenty leftover for a second meal.

Leftovers for sure.

Leftovers for sure.

How was your Easter dinner?

Rabbit Food or What to Have for Easter Dinner

Holiday dinners. Thanksgiving is always turkey. Christmas is always lasagna. But there are no expectations for Easter around here. Easter may be a high church holiday, pretty major for Christians in the scheme of things but for us it has never been a family gathering kind of day. When our son was little it was fun to color the eggs and hide them with the baskets and other goodies. After church we would find out if we were clever or if everything was discovered in 5 minutes. Usually one or two eggs found good hiding places. And of course it was very important that Dad (who usually was the designated Easter Bunny) remembered where he stashed everything.  You don’t want to find one of those hard-boiled eggs 6 months later.

Well my son is grown and for the last couple of years it has been impossible for him to get home. This year it will be my mother and a friend for dinner. We are not ham eaters for the most part. I like ham but no one else was ever interested and buying a big ham that only I would eat was impractical to say the least. Our fallback is usually chicken.

About a week ago Curt spotted some sockeye salmon in the grocery and knowing that my Mom enjoys salmon he bought some, not thinking of Easter because I don’t eat fish. Okay, I will have a piece of perch now and then and I like scallops and shrimp but those are really not fish. But the more we thought about what to have the more the salmon seemed to be the obvious choice.

salmon2

Three of the four diners would have a wonderful time. I would just ignore them and eat the asparagus and the cheddar popovers and the deviled eggs…unless…I could find an easy to prepare single serving of something just for me.

Flash back to Wednesday and a day trip to Wausau,Wisconsin (about 100 miles one way) to an art museum. Between here and there is a great meat market called Nueske’s. Their applewood smoked bacon is nationally known. Curt wanted to stop to pick up some wieners and a smoked duck breast. Inside, this place smells incredibly good and it was obvious what most people eat on Easter because there was a bunker full of hams, which the clerk said she had filled three times already that day. However they were all huge so I bypassed the bunker and that’s when Curt called me over to the deli case. There they were, in all their porky goodness, smoked pork loin chops.

chop

Dinner is now complete. No rabbit food on our table we are all carnivores and proud of it. Watch for the follow-up post to see how it all worked on Sunday.

Eating Fried Eggs

Okay some of you are already saying, “Eww, fried eggs.” Well just get past that and read on.

friedegg2

Over easy with sausages and a bran muffin

Growing up I wasn’t a big fan of eggs. When I finally convinced myself to eat an egg it was scrambled. Yellow, fluffy and I didn’t have to make any decisions to eat it because every bite was the same. I don’t know when my palate expanded but today I will eat them hard-boiled, fried, scrambled, poached and deviled. I hold the line at pickled. That glass barrel of pickled eggs sitting on the bar in your local saloon always looked creepy. Now that’s “eww!”

Pickled eggs in jar

Anyway, many years ago at some family gathering, we were all sitting around and my mother, always the conversation starter, asked everyone how we ate a fried egg. This might seem like a conversation killer but much to our surprise it was pretty lively and everyone had an opinion (from that you can immediately tell how exciting it gets around here).  To refresh my memory I asked my sister about this “event” and she said “Huh? What? Where?” so maybe it’s not memorable to everyone.

Before I give you everyone’s answers some clarification on terms. When checking the internet descriptions vary but for the most part here are my definitions for fried egg cooking terms:

Sunny side up – cooked on one side, white firm, yolk yellow, visible and runny
Over Easy – turned, cooked on both sides, white firm, yolk runny
Over Medium – turned, cooked on both sides, white firm, yolk cooked on edges but soft in center
Over Hard – turned, cooked on both sides, white and yolk firm

Here’s how we eat them.
Me: Over easy, then I cut off some white and break the yolk a bit so I can get some on the white and eat it together. Just keep doing that till its gone.j eggMy Dad: Over easy. He would eat all of the white first leaving the yolk intact. Then he would break the yolk with his toast and mop up the yolk on the toast finally just eating with his fork whatever remained.

My Mom: Over easy to medium. She eats most of the white first but leaves a ring of white around the yolk. Then chops up the remaining yolk and white together before eating it.

My Sister: Over easy. She takes a knife and fork and cuts it all up together and then eats it.

My Brother-in-Law: Over medium. Takes a bite of white, then a bite of yolk.

My Husband: Over easy. He eats all of the white, then cuts the yolk in half. Eats each half then mops up the plate with his toast.

I recall the conversation being very silly and everyone campaigning for their way of eating the egg as if a sash and crown would be awarded to the most reasonable, the most correct. But of course no one was going to relent and agree with another’s egg consumption. So I wonder, how many other ways are there to eat a simple fried egg?

empty plate

You’re Going to Drink That?

Our son is home for the holidays. When he was little he was a picky eater, as are many little kids. He had his beige phase – noodles,cheese, cheerios.  Carrots were never high on his list and salad, or for that matter, any leafy thing, was taboo (he could pick out one miniscule piece of lettuce from a Taco Bell taco even though it had been ordered without lettuce). But as he grew so did his palate and his bravery. His father, like his father before him, will try almost anything once and Nathan also has developed this crazy fearlessness. Well, crazy from my point of view. I have a whole list of things that Curt thinks are tasty bit which I won’t try, even once.

On this trip Nathan did not only bring home his laundry but a can of Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink  from Taiwan. He said it was an impulse buy he made while picking up some groceries at his local Megafoods. My impulse buys usually tend toward chocolate or deli salads not weird drinks but, like I said, I live with adventurous palates.

Front and Back view

Front and Back view – note the festive Christmas colors

The ingredients listed were water, grass jelly (mesona procumbens hemsl), cane sugar, corn starch and honey. I forgot to mention this was ‘honey flavour’, implying there are other ‘flavours.’  And the can was in Christmas ‘colours’. Nathan said this was the only flavor on the shelf and later, we noticed it was way past its expiration date so it had been on the shelf for a while.

In his research my son discovered this was considered a dessert drink made from the boiled down stalks of a member of the mint family. We were having stir fry for dinner so he thought it might be a nice accompaniment. Poured into a glass it looked a bit different from the picture on the can, as Nathan put it, “Sort of a poo color.” Yum! The one thing missing in the glass from the picture was the chunky jello looking bits. Nathan found a few bits around the lip of the can which he tried to shake into the glass.

A glassful of Grass Jelly

A glassful of Grass Jelly

Now it was taste test time. Nathan said he really couldn’t identify a flavor. I said it was sort of a sarsaparilla with a hint of turpentine, and Curt said cough medicine. Nathan finished it but said he wouldn’t buy it again. For something with honey and sugar, it wasn’t very sweet. But where were those chunky bits featured on the can? Surprise! They were there all along, hiding on the bottom. So slippery they snuck right by when poured into the glass.

Chunks?

Chunks?

The Grass Jelly bits

The Grass Jelly bits

Once we saw the bottom of the glass we were kind of happy they weren’t floating around freely in the liquid. They had a shiny thick seaweed looking appearance and no one, yes not one of the fearless foodies said, “I’ll finish that!”  But Grass Jelly is also listed as a digestive so I think it will work fine in my compost. Can’t wait to see what they bring home next.

Happy Holidays!

Crispy Tortillas

The other night was taco night at our house. We try to keep some leftover meats (smoked pork, lamb biria, turkey confit, Spanish chorizo, etc) in the freezer that can be adapted on short notice to make tacos, stretch a pasta or bean dish, maybe top a hearty salad, enrich a soup or other such uses of a little meat to make an otherwise slim meal into something a bit richer, more interesting or just different.

Once I had the meat picked out I wanted to make the tortillas a bit more interesting than right out of the package. I like the puffy, slightly crispy shells like the ones Taco Bell serves with their Chalupas but you can’t buy them ready to go like you can buy the crispy corn shells.  So I figured that if Taco Bell could figure out how to make a wheat tortilla crispy how hard could it be.  I ended up shallow frying them in 1/4″ of oil, a half of the shell at a time.  I folded the raw shell in half and, using tongs, held one half in the hot oil until it was somewhat puffy and crispy – maybe 30 seconds – then turned the shell over and fried the other half, again using the tongs to hold the tortilla in the familiar shell form.  Drain on a rack or paper toweling to cool and fill with your favorite meat and accompaniments.  Yum, yum.

Two crispy tortillas filled and ready to eat

Our tortillas were filled with shredded smoked pork shoulder, red onion, cilantro and a wedge of lime. The remainder of the plate that night had frijoles refritos, and a light salad of shredded lettuce, tomato and avocado with a sour cream/milk/lime juice dressing. Those are braised mushrooms on the side.

Dos taco placa especial