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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

I make everything from scratch, to avoid ingesting hormones, additives, and preservatives that I consdier pernicious, or at least whose beneficial or pernicious qualities are an open question. Dinners, desserts, soda, sauces and jams, breakfast cereal, trail mix, all sorts of bread. (Still haven’t made my own noodles, because I can’t seem to run out of the ones I have. I’ll get there Susy Morris, I swear.)

At almost 60, I’m a remnant of the last generation that routinely learned to cook at home. While I never stopped making dinner- the stews and soups and roasted chickens- I had largely abandoned baking, picking it back up a few years ago. I started with crackers, then scones, and moved on to pie (yes the crust too, thanks for asking).

It turns out to be like language– while I do rely on recipes, I found baking intuitive for the most part; call it “touch memory” from my childhood. Like smells, it turns out the texture of a proper pie crust, and the correct amount of cookie dough to scoop up, and the shape of a pita are learned skills that lurk in the interstices of your brain until you need them again.

But I didn’t trust myself with bread.

I’ve been through many recipes- the Browneyed Baker, and Mark Bittman and my favorite legacy cookbook. I’ve watched the complex terror that is America’s Test Kitchen’s minute description of how to fail at breadbaking. I followed every step to the letter. I asked my pro-baker buddy for tips. But it wouldn’t rise, and it didn’t look right, and the crumb was too loose or too dense.

The only expert I didn’t consult was that lizard brain of mine, which kept telling me that none of my breads felt right.

A month ago I went to a bread baking demonstration, expecting to find That One Weird Trick That Will Make Your Bread Turn Out Correctly Every Time!

And I did.

The presenter started throwing ingredients into a bowl– warm water, melted butter, yeast, sugar, coffee, salt. He dismissed experts and recipes– “two cups of liquid, some kind of shortening, yeast, flavoring like salt, 4-5 cups of flour. That’s bread. Any kind of bread– flat bread, loaf bread, fancy bread.” Now this sounded more like cooking, and less like that scary, scientific, chemical-reactions, cautiously weighed ingredients mystery that is baking. And I remembered baking bread with my mother; she used to have a cookbook out, but I seldom remember her looking at it. She would just make the bread, and tell me “this is what the dough should feel like when it’s ready to rise, and this is what it feels like when it’s ready to bake.” Here’s how it looks and here’s how it smells.

So I started making bread, instead of reading recipes. The first time I ignored the recipe, I forgot the shortening in a loaf bread. Bread without shortening gives you flat bread, like pita, so you can imagine how nice and dense that loaf was.

But it freed me from the tyranny of perfection– I made edible bread armed only with ingredients and my knowledge. So I made another loaf (and forgot to punch it down– this results in a bread “balloon” in case you’re wondering), but it looked and tasted like bread. I’m on my fifth loaf now, and third successful loaf. Easy, in fact, as pie turned out to be.

Standing at the counter kneeding bread feels not just like, hey, I’m going to have some delicious bread in a few hours. It feels like I’m Eve, or Miriam, or Mrs. Ingalls, or my mother, doing what women do, and have always done.

Making bread.

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I must admit that my little alphabet list was blank when I came to H until I took the photos of the hand-painted ornaments that my Great Aunt made. Over the years, my brother and I have to receive the most beautiful hand-painted and handmade gifts from her. When my mom and I were up in Wisconsin visiting my brother we all had a great time going through all the decoration boxes as we decorated his tree. There were so many wonderful decoration filled with memories. We talked about the memories as we each pulled out another ornament. It was a lot of fun.

Hand-painted ornaments

Hand-painted ornaments

At the same time, we cleared out some things that none of use wanted anymore; old decorations that were broken and un-fixable. There was a plastic garland that had small fruit on it that mom used to attach to the railing going down the stair with velvet bows – that had to go, it was all sticky and just couldn’t be saved. 041I have some of my Aunt’s things on my tree, but it was so much fun seeing the ornaments that were going on my brothers tree. The photos I took aren’t the greatest, but they will remind me of those ornaments when I look at them.

As we talked and looked and decorated we realized that there are five generations of ornaments on my brothers tree. My Great-Grandmother, 2-Grandmothers, my mom, me/my brother, and his two girls. There is a lot of history there and a lot of great memories.

H is a lot of things; Happiness, handmade, hand-painted, holiday, history, and more

Do you have some treasured ornaments that are filled with memories?

Sincerely, Emily

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Things that start with H…

***

Since we are in the midst of the holiday season, H is rather fitting. So, H is for hand-painted and handmade ornaments that my (Sincerely, Emily) Great Aunt made years ago.

Hand-painted ornament (I know, it is a terrible photo!)

Hand-painted ornament (I know, it is a terrible photo!)

***

Do any H words spring to mind for you right now?

 

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Revisiting F

This last week I was up in Wisconsin visiting my brother and his family. My travel timing was perfect and I met the first storm and deep-freeze temps of the season as it arrived in the area. 063I have not lived in snow for 16 years and when I watched the rain come down and the temperature drop as I waited for my mom’s plane to arrive I considered making a big sign for the back window of our rental car. Something like, “BACK OFF! I’m from Texas, and I haven’t driven in snow for 16 years!” Hoping that would explain my super slow (but safe) driving! ha

The driving really went well. The roads were slick, but I took things slow, and cautious. In fact one night when my mom, niece and I were coming back from a holiday party up at the cabin I had fun with some fishtailing on the side roads. We were all laughing pretty hard, especially after a nice fishtail where I overshot the driveway and bounced up and over the curb. The three of us couldn’t get into the house and to the bathrooms fast enough we were laughing so hard that there was a threat or two of wetting our pants. I know we will all remember that one.

062I do not miss the maintenance of winter and I do not miss that bone chilling freezing cold feeling when the temp is sitting at 0F before you even factor in the windchill (-27F.) But I am very happy; to have decorated a 14′ tree full of 5 generations worth of family ornaments, had wonderful friends over for lunch, had the opportunity to go to a few holiday parties and see many friends, have dinner with more family members up near the cabin and more!

I didn’t really have to spend any time outside. Watching the snow come down and leave a beautiful white blanket over everything was beautiful and normally I would have rushed out to shovel off the driveway and sidewalks (because it would have been fun to do – a novelty of sorts and that snow was really light and fluffy), but I knew I would get two shovels-worth done and I knew the novelty would wear off in 2 seconds when I was out of breath and huffing and puffing… so I “let” my brother do it. When I saw him get the blower out to do the driveway one day I realized that I could have done that (probably!)044

So revisiting F was kind of fun… freezing temps, family, friends, and falling snow.

Sincerely, Emily

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I am not sure what I was thinking. It is freezing up here in North part of the US! I arrived to rain, that turned to freezing rain, that turned to ice covered roads, that turned to snow! their first big storm of the season.

Rain turning to freezing rain

Rain turning to freezing rain

I don’t seem to mind all that, but the temperature really dropped and it hasn’t been above 10F in 2 days.

The rain turned to snow throughout the night.

The rain turned to snow throughout the night.

So, F is for Freezing and Frigid temps. It is also for Family (I am visiting family right now)

How is the weather where you are right now?

Sincerely, Emily

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On November 11th, the US will celebrate Veterans Day. I will put a flag out on the front porch as a big wave to all the Veteran’s out there and in recognition to their service.

I remember…

My Dad

My Dad

I remember…

Great Uncle Harvey

Great Uncle Harvey

I give recognition to my paternal Grandfather, whom I never met, for his service.

World War I

World War I

Do you hang out a flag on Veteran’s Day?

Sincerely, Emily

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Stuff

There’s a certain degree of hubris in writing about the things we accumulate. George Carlin pretty much said it all. (Caution- link contains strong language).

I throw stuff away– I joke that I spend an embarrassing amount of time going through the trash for the stuff I should have kept. But I’ll tell you, in two weeks I will be wracking my brain trying to remember what it was I needed so badly that I dug through the garbage looking for it.

There’s a nostalgia to stuff– who doesn’t love going into the attic or the basement (or better yet your mother’s attic or basement) and finding that childhood stuff that you had forgotten about. Or even just that blouse that you loved 8 years ago, which is hopelessly out of fashion or never going to fit again. But the thing with stuff like that is that if you didn’t know you had it, you don’t need it.

When the kids were little and apparently unable to ever put their stuff away, we would pack up the clutter in paper bags. If they didn’t ask for it in the next three months, we’d chuck or donate it. I cannot remember a single instance of my kids ever saying “hey, what happened to…”

Some of those forgotten items you should keep, for future generations. If you find something from a prior generation, I guess I’ll let you keep that, on the theory that in another 2 generations it will be a best-of on Antiques Roadshow. But your stuff? Don’t put it away, throw it away.

I’m the child of gypsies– both sides of my lineage were immigrants who came to America with the things they could carry, and then spent the next two generations moving from one place to a better place, so I suppose I’m culturally, if not genetically disinclined to save stuff. When you move a lot, you don’t accumulate things, because you’re just going to have to pick it up and carry it with you the next time you go, and there will be a next time. By the time I was 30, I had lived at 11 different addresses, moving on average once every 2½ years before I graduated high school. The longest time I lived anywhere before my current address was seven years, and that was in my late 20s. Growing up, the record was four and a half years.

After I left home, my parents didn’t stop moving either. My father has lived at nine different addresses in three different countries since 1978. That’s a move every 4 years. He once moved to England with only the things he could fit stuffed into a single carry-on and the sleeves and zipper lining of his trench coat.

After 30 years at this address, I feel now like I have more stuff than I can handle. When you don’t move, the dust settles. But I have friends whose every closet is packed like McGee’s, with drawers stuffed to uncloseability, and every surface covered. You just never know when you might need that jar (never).

Give it up, throw it out, don’t make it do, just do without (with apologies to grandmas everywhere)

Are you a keeper or a tosser?

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