Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yummyliciousness from the new coobook....

Years ago cooks created or adjusted recipes to accommodate what they had on hand. A bounty of fruit, or a little bit of this and a little bit of that often inspired uniquely wonderful dishes. The following two recipes are for using fresh, under-ripe fruit. Both of the crisp and the pandowdy are designed to use firm, fresh fruit in delicious ways. For soft fruits like plums, peaches and apricots, it is best if they are slightly under-ripe. Berries & rhubarb can also be used.
 
Apricot-Apple Crisp with Maple Cream
5 whole fresh apples and 5 firm apricots (not over-ripe)
1 c. flour
½ c. sugar
½ c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ tsp. each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 stick butter (½ c.)
½ whole lemon
½ c. real maple syrup, divided
1½ cup whipping cream
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt using a fork. Cut butter into small pieces and gradually add to flour mixture until evenly mixed.
Peel fruit into a bowl. Add the zest from half a lemon. Squeeze juice from lemon half and stir in with fruit and zest. Add 2 tbsps real maple syrup to fruit, stir well.
Pour fruit mixture into a small pan (8” or 9” square) and cover evenly with crumb topping. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until crisp and brown on top.

Maple Cream Sauce:
Pour whipping cream into a saucepan. Add 5 tbsps real maple syrup, 3 tbsps corn syrup and stir over moderate heat until thickened and reduced by about one-third, approximately 15 minutes. Refrigerate mixture until it is cold and thick, or set the saucepan into a small bowl of ice (the ice will melt and turn into ice water). Stirring your mixture, it will cool and thicken in about 15 minutes. Drizzle sauce over crisp. Serve warm.

Caramel Peachy-Pear Pandowdy
Sauce: 1 c. brown sugar, ¼ cup flour, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. salt, 1 cup water, 2 tbsps butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. lemon juice.
Blend brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan, then stir in water and cook on medium heat until sauce mixture thickens slightly, then stir in butter, vanilla, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Batter: 1 c. raw quick-cooking oatmeal, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, ¼ tsp. salt, 3 tbsps butter, 1 beaten egg, 1/3 c. milk.
Prepare the drop batter by blending oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt, then cut in the butter until all is finely mixed, add egg and milk, and stir with a fork to make a drop batter, but do not over mix. Set aside.
Peel and slice enough peaches & pears (or tart apples, or firm plums) to make 6 cups, arrange fruit slices in a buttered 9-inch square baking pan, and pour sauce over the fruit.

Drop spoonfuls of batter over the fruit/sauce mixture. Do not stir. Bake in oven at 375°F for about 35 minutes or so. Serve warm plain, or garnish with freshly whipped cream.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

One New Review and Two Emails from "Each Angel Burns" Readers

There is nothing writers love more than getting emails from readers telling them how much they enjoyed their books. A reader from Virginia sent the following which she said she is also posting to Amazon. I was especially appreciative of her comments on the theme of "sacrificial love" because that was very much in my mind as I was developing the story, just like the power of redemption was the subtext of "The Old Mermaid's Tale". I have such intelligent readers --- it is gratifying, indeed:
I enjoyed this book over the course of two snowy days in Virginia. I had just visited Maine and Massachusetts where this novel is set, so I was ripe for the accents of these characters.

The book revealed a lot to me about Catholic spirituality. It is the first book I’ve read with a specifically Catholic ethos. Issues of faith, enacting one’s values, the meaning of virginity, sacrificial love, friendship, loyalty are all given scope here. When these characters move from their inner commitments, their manifestation is love rather than deprivation. I lived along with each character (and there are many), and gradually understood their actions. Tender love making is a joy to experience and to read. That too is part of this novel. Ms. Valentine’s atmospheric novel raises many ideas and I think they will keep perking inside me for a good while.

And I received 2 emails with the following comments:
Kathleen –
I finished your new book and loved it.  With each turn and new scene I became more and more involved. I was sorry when it ended.

And:
Just finished your book last night. I want a Gabe and a Zeke. I'll be posting a review to Amazon. I loved the ending.
Thank you all. It means a lot...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Four Very Old Recipes from the New Cookbook

Working on the new family cookbook I am struck by the fact that some of these recipes are well over 100 years old. I decided to share a few:

Great-Grandmother Werner’s Cooked Cabbage
Gram always said that her mother-in-law, Great-grandmother Werner (left with Great-grandfather), was the kindest, sweetest person she ever knew. She loved her like her own mother. This is how she taught Gram to make cabbage.

Cut up 2-3 lbs. white cabbage and 1 small onion. Melt ½ stick butter in a frying pan and put the onion and cabbage in. Stir gently making sure it does not scorch or burn. Sprinkle with caraway seeds, 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 tbsp vinegar, salt & pepper. Add splashes of water as needed to keep cabbage moist as it cooks. When cabbage is nearly done sprinkle with 1 tbsp flour and stir in to thicken the broth. Serve with more butter.


Great-grandmother Woelfel’s Moultasha
“Moultasha” means “mouth pockets”. Since Great-grandmother has 5 hungry sons and 3 sturdy daughters to feed I’m sure she made a lot of them. Gram remembers her mother making these and said, “I never saw this recipe in any cookbook.” This recipe is copied as Gram wrote it.
Grease a glass baking dish 12 x 12”. To about 2 c. leftover mashed potatoes add an egg and about ½ c. flour salt. This will be a sticky dough. Pinch off about enough dough to make a small pancake, roll out with a little flour. Add a few chopped apple, 1 tsp sugar and cinnamon, fold over, seal edges, put in baking pan. Continue folding one against the other in the baking pan till all the dough is used. Beat together 1 ½ c. milk with 1 beaten egg. Pour over and bake 40 minutes to one hour. If time is short you can roll dough and make 2 rolls like a pie and put apples and sugar, cinnamon in, lay roll lengthwise. Pour milk and egg mixture over and bake. Serve with anything instead of potatoes or pasta.



Raw Potato Dumplings
Gram (left in 1920) made these sometimes to go with leftover roast or turkey when there was lots of gravy to be used up. This is a real old country recipe.

Grate 7-8 raw, peeled potatoes and 1 small grated onion. Add some dried parsley, salt and pepper and 2 eggs. Tear up half a loaf of white bread and work it into the potato mixture by hand until the mixture holds together by the handful. Bring a large kettle of water with a little salt to a rapid boil. Shape the potato dough into balls. Roll in flour and drop into the boiling water. Let cook 45 minutes.

If you have more dumplings than you need the next day you can slice them and fry them in butter with sliced onions. Very delicious!
You can also make little meatballs from ground pork and saute them in a pan then shape the potato mixture around them before you roll them in flour and drop them in the water.



Great-grandmother Woelfel’s Schmarn
This is really not a bread. “Schmarn” means pancake and Gram remembers her mother making these for breakfast. Wayne was always very partial to them. I am copying it her exactly as Gram Werner wrote it.
Mix 1 c. flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 ½ c. milk a little at a time till smooth. Then add 5 eggs and beat with the rest of the milk. You can add more milk, dough should be very runny. Heat a “non-stick” frying pan with 2 tbsp shortening added. Let pan get very hot then pour in the dough. Let cook a few minutes, then with a pancake turner, keep turning and sort of chopping up till edges are brown and sort of fringed and baked through. Makes 4 servings. Good with syrup.


There's lots more in the book. I'm up to 160 pages now!!! My sisters Anne, Lisa, Chris & Beth have sent new recipes. Brothers Wayne and Matt have added to the book and nieces Amy, Emily, Erica, and Tasha as well as nephews Adam and Mark! I'm so delighted!


Thanks for reading.

New Amazon Reader's Review for "Each Angel Burns"

From "Cozy Bookworm":

5.0 out of 5 stars Love and mystery- my favorite combination!, January 27, 2010
I savored this novel and did not want it to end. I felt close to the characters yet was continually surprised by what happened. Maggie is an enviable heroine and Gabe is a dream come true handyman, complete with Zeke the dog. Refurbishing the old monastery, given to Maggie from her demonic husband, Sinclair, provides an intriguing backdrop for the story. Gorgeous Father Pete has loved Maggie but loves his vocation more. The young artists assisting Maggie with her sculptures add some gastronomical bits to the story which made me wish for some lobster in my neighborhood! There were many more interesting characters--the guys from the Arm Pit bar and their interesting "club" and Josef the Amish man. There were times when I was unsure where the story was going but it was very satisfying indeed.


Thank you, Cozy Bookworm!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some Common Misconceptions About Writing

Because I am a writer, have participated in various writers forums and groups and also work with writers to edit, design, publish and market their books I frequently hear comments made about the process of writing that are erroneous. Some are just misconceptions and some qualify as grand delusions. The most common of these is that you can write a book and live off the profits. If only that were true.


Some years ago I was in a writer's workshop in which the instructor asked why we wanted to write. Most of the people gave the usual responses: I have a story to tell, I love to write, etc. but one guy quite frankly stated he had heard about how much writers made so he was going to write a book, sell it to Hollywood and then take it easy. He didn't last long in the workshop.

It is true that some writers do make a lot of money on their books but they are the exception not the rule. The majority of fiction writers, even fairly successful fiction writers, still work other jobs as teachers, lawyers, editors, etc. for a long time. I've heard it said that it is not until a writer publishes their fifth book that they can “quit their day job” so to speak. Of course there are exceptions. Some people come up with a winner the first time out but they are rare.

I was thinking about this because I've been following Anne Rice's posts on her Facebook page. I've recently become enamored of her new focus on Catholic-themed books and love hearing her discuss them. It's a touchy subject and because there is a strong anti-Catholic/Christian element in contemporary society and I think she is very brave to abandon her former, highly successful paranormal subject matter (although, if you pay attention, most of that had powerfully moral/spiritual themes). But she has recently discussed two things I think more people should know about.

One is that a writer of her stature has a lot of influence in the publishing world. This is something fledgling writers often complain about, that established writers are too self-centered or whatever to help beginners. Ms Rice has recently talked about her efforts to find a publisher interested in a book her own father wrote. The book, The Impulsive Imp, is a charming children's tale and was recently published by Amazon's Book Surge but Ms. Rice said that for years she could not get a publisher interested in the book. Now if Anne Rice cannot get her own father published, what do unknown beginners expect? Writing is wonderful but publishing is another matter. I get inquiries all the time from writers who want me to help them get their books published and I've got a lot to learn about that business myself.

The other discussion on her page that fascinated me was about reader's misconceptions about her books being made into movies. She wrote that a lot of readers asked if she would allow her books to be made into movies and she wanted to set the record straight --- that it was more a matter of her getting an offer from a film production company to option her books and turn them into movies. This is something I know a little more about because of the experiences of friends who are writers. Most writers hope to get their work optioned but even getting an option does not mean a film will be made. Even if you get the offer all that means is the production company is purchasing the OPTION to make a movie --- they may or may not do it. And, if they do it, they may or may not take your opinions on how the movie should be made or who should be in it into consideration.

It has long been said that everybody can writer but writers can't NOT write. I think that is true. Writing is something most of us do because entering into that world we create and populating it with characters and scene and story is a delicious experience. But how our creation fares in the world is out of our control. We write because we love the experience of writing or because we have something we feel the need to put out into the world. What happens beyond that is not within our control. But we do it anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Article about The Old Mermaid's Tale on Candian Web Site

This article was posted on the Canadian web site TheGreatLakes.com over a year ago but this is the first I have seen it. How nice....

Mermaids, Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Folklore Fill Novel


Gloucester, MA  November 24, 2008 -- Waitressing in an Erie diner was a necessity for Kathleen Valentine while she attended college at Behrend-Penn State. Now, nearly forty years later, that experience is the background for her first novel The Old Mermaid's Tale (http://www.oldmermaidinn.com), released by Parlez-Moi Press.

Set in the fictional town of Port Presque Isle, Pennsylvania in the early 1960s, The Old Mermaid's Tale is the story of Clair Wagner, an Ohio farm girl attending Chesterton College. Valentine admits that Chesterton is a thinly disguised version of Behrend-Penn State and that the streets and businesses of Port Presque Isle will be familiar to those who know Erie. The author said she originally wrote the book using Erie as the setting but revised it to a fictional town so she could expand the story line.

"What I really wanted to do," Valentine says, "is tell the story of Lake Erie and its importance in the lives of the people who live near it. I live in Gloucester, Massachusetts now and there are many books about the maritime world here like Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. But I wanted to write about the maritime world of the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie."

Valentine, who grew up in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, spent several years researching the maritime history of the Great Lakes. The book begins in 1960, shortly after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to international commerce. Clair Wagner, like the author, works in a waterfront diner to pay for college. As she becomes acquainted with the seamen who frequent the diner her intrigue with Lake Erie and its history of great storms, shipwrecks, maritime legends, and folklore grows. Though the novel vividly portrays the lives of the mariners it is, above all, a love story.

Clair's first romance is with Pio, a handsome young Italian fisherman who works on lake barges to earn money in order to buy his own, ultimately doomed, fishing tug. Clair has a brief romance with Gary, the charming son of a wealthy shipping tycoon, during which she is introduced to the working face of the commercial waterfront. Then she meets Baptiste, a mysterious Breton mariner injured in a shipwreck who now earns a living as a musician in waterfront taverns. Author Ingeborg Lauterstein, in a blurb on the books cover, calls The Old Mermaid's Tale "grand storytelling in the style of Fielding."

Valentine's research began when she was a girl in the 1950s and spent summer vacations on Presque Isle with her godparents who lived in Erie. "The history of shipwrecks and lost vessels is as exciting and perilous as those on any ocean. In the period that I lived there I found Erie romantic and mysterious," she says. "My godfather loved the Lake and he started my love of its history."
In fact, she dedicated the book to him, Erie resident the late Norman A. Reider.

Along with the theme of Great Lakes shipwrecks, Valentine has woven in a sub-theme of folklore --- Great Lakes folklore, Native American Folklore, and Breton folklore from the Cote du Nord. And mermaids.

"Many people are fascinated by mermaids and the archetype of the mermaid is very special to me. Mermaids inhabit water, of course," Valentine says, "which archetypally represents sexuality. In literature mermaids are both destructive, luring ships into dangerous waters with their songs, and heroic in saving the lives of drowning sailors. In my story Clair is a young woman just coming into her awareness of her own sexuality and to what that means to the mariners she becomes involved with. While Tessie, the aging proprietor of the Old Mermaid Inn, served as a mermaid in both aspects to the men in her life. Tessie's story of what it means to be a mermaid gives the novel its title."

She adds, "I've been pleasantly surprised by the reactions of the men who have read my book. They say they fall in love with Clair. They all want to meet a mermaid like Clair."

Valentine is the author of My Last Romance and other passions (http://www.mylastromance.com), a collection of short stories released in 2006 and numerous short stories in various publications. She is currently working on a new novel, Each Angel Burns, (http://www.eachangelburns.com)a mystery about faith, enduring friendships, and miracles.

The Old Mermaid's Tale ( ISBN-13: 978-0978594060 ) is 296 pages long and is available to be ordered through local bookstores or online at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Old-Mermaids-Tale-Kathleen-Valentine/dp/0978594061/). Readers may also visit the book's web site at http://www.OldMermaidInn.com or the author's web site at http://www.KathleenValentine.com, both of which have links to the first chapter

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Brother's “Recipe Book”

While working on the new version of the family cookbook I was reminded of my brother Jack's “recipe book”. Jack was a hunter, fisherman and gardener and grew much of the food that his family ate. He loved to walk the woods with a big LL Bean basket on his back and pick berries, wild grapes and other treasures to bring home and make into relishes, preserves and wine.




He once gave me a bottle of the most absolutely delicious wild grape wine. Wild grapes grow on vines that climb up some very tall trees, way out of reach of most people. When I asked how he was able to get enough he said, “Oh, it's easy. I just lasso the top of the tree, tie the rope to the bumper of my truck and back up until the tree bends down far enough for me to reach them.” That was Jack all right.


He made outstanding sausages and was always experimenting with new flavors and combinations of meats. And he kept track of everything he made in this beaten up little cardboard notebook that looked like it had spent a lot of time in kitchens. Jack died in 2002 and I still miss him like crazy but I also love to think about the kind of guy he was. They don't make them like that anymore, as the saying goes. So when I started working on the family cookbook I started thinking about all those recipes of his. I called his daughter Amy and asked her about his “recipe book” as he always called it. She said she thought it was still in the bookcase at her mother's house and she agreed with me it would be a wonderful thing to be able to preserve and share some of his recipes. That's Amy in the picture watching her Dad make sausage.




About a week ago I called to see if she had located it and she said that her mother said she didn't know where it was. Amy was upset and so was I. It was hard to think of his recipes being gone but even worse to think that notebook, which he put so much energy into, was gone. Amy said she'd try to find herself.



Last night I was sitting here working on the cookbook --- that is all I do these days --- and the phone rang. It was a Pennsylvania number I didn't recognize but when I answered the phone it was Amy. She was in her car calling from her cell phone. “I've got it!” she exclaimed, “I've got my father's recipe book. I'm going to go straight home and scan some pages and email them to you.” She sounded so happy!


About an hour later an email arrived with six scanned pages and I was both crying and laughing as I downloaded them. There was that battered, stained, scribbled-over bunch of pages I remembered in that handwriting that was so familiar. It was just so wonderful see them and all the memories they brought with them.



So the cookbook will have four sausage recipes from Jack as well as his recipes for venison jerky, hamburger relish, dill pickles, and his spaghetti sauce. I'm just so pleased we'll get to share them. Amy told me she absolutely loved having that book and she just laughed as she was looking at some of the crazy stuff he recorded in it --- including how to make turtle soup and how to prepare ruffed grouse.


There's something awfully intimate about a book like that, it's almost more personal than a diary. The history of a life in food. As I retyped the recipes and fit them into the text of the book I felt a closeness to Jack that I haven't felt in a long time. And I think his daughter is feeling it too. It's really beautiful. I'm so happy that his book will stay with us.


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Mother's Cookbooks II

Working on this new version of the family cookbook, I got out several of my Mother's favorite cookbooks and discovered a couple of surprises. Very welcome surprises.
The cookbooks in the picture above are five that my mother used all the time. You can tell this by their battered condition and the stains on the pages. That's the second Valentine cookbook on the top left and her church's Sodality cookbook below it.
Tucked in "Old Time Pickling and Spicing Recipes" I discovered a handwritten recipe for Pumpernickle. I think that is my Grandmother Werner's handwriting but am not sure. It looks good though.
 
Recipes written on the fly leaf of "Food That Really Schmecks" and one recipe for "Foolproof Pie Crust" has my mother's name written in the corner but it is not her handwriting. Someone clearly gave it to her and she taped it in her cookbook.

 
In the section on sauerkraut in "Food That Really Schmecks" she taped an article on making sauerkraut from the Philadelphia Inquirer, November 13, 1977.

And this is the second edition of the Valentine Cookbook. Some of the pages are so stained you can barely read them and one page in the cookie section has a petrified clump of something I swear is her molasses cookie dough.

Many of the recipes in these books have notes written next to them "don't add as much butter", or "very good but needs more pepper". I've really enjoyed going through these books... it's kind of like spending some time with Mom.
 

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Houses We Still "Live" In...

In going through the endless piles of photographs I have to select pictures for the cookbook in progress I came across this picture. I suspect my Uncle Tommy sent it to me one year at Christmas because it is his house and he does a wonderful job of decorating for Christmas. It is also the house I grew up in, at least for the first six years of my life. But though most of my memories of “home” are for the house on Evergreen Road where I lived the rest of my childhood, this house, on Chestnut Street, stays in my mind as a place of fascination and enchantment.



My Grandfather Valentine built that house for his young family and, after my parents were married, they lived there while my father built the house on Evergreen Road. I was six when we moved.


Memory is a fascinating thing. When I think of Evergreen Road I have thousands of memories that range from those of a kid to those of an adult. The last time I was there a couple years ago my Dad was in a nursing home and it was only my brother Wayne and I alone in the house. So, though I have lots to remember from childhood, the house itself in my memory has changed and transformed with my own changes and transformations. But Chestnut Street remains a place of wonder and enchantment.


After we moved I'd still walk down to Chestnut Street to visit my grandmother until she died. Then Uncle Tommy bought the house, he and Aunt Mary Rita still live in it, and, though I've visited many times, visits have been confined to the kitchen and the parlor. The rest of the house, the gardens, the barn out back where my Dad once had a shop and which Uncle Tommy now uses as a garage and tool shed, have not changed in my mind from when I was a little child and had free run of the place.


It's sort of amazing really, that I can close my eyes today and remember lying on top of the big cedar chest that sat on the first landing of the staircase to watch the rainbows made when the sun shone through the beveled glass window there. Or waking up in the middle of the night in my bedroom upstairs and looking out of the window at the street lights and the sidewalks below. That was back in the days when policemen still walked beats. I remember seeing them slowly walking past under the streetlight on a calm and quiet summer night.


When I was writing the chapter in which Maggie recalls her childhood in Each Angel Burns I thought about that house a lot. It is different, of course, not the sad ruin Maggie grew up in, but still mysterious and enchanting. There was (and still is) a beautiful handmade built-in china closet in the dining room. It was filled with lovely, exquisite crystal and porcelain things... To a child they were all sparkles, flowers, lace, and curiosities.


Yesterday I got a letter from someone I hadn't heard from in close to 40 years. Back when I was in college in Erie, Pa, working in the diner that became the Canal Street Diner in The Old Mermaid's Tale, I lived in her house just off of Plum Street. She is 90 now and still as full of life and ideas as she ever was. It was wonderful to hear from her and I started thinking about her house. She still lives in that house that house that had an upstairs porch where I used to sit for hours to read and a rose garden in back with an arbor. I had sent her a copy of The Old Mermaid's Tale because so much of what is in there was from the time I lived there. She responded, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Anyone with an imagination like yours just had to have a book in them.” She said she plans to read the book as soon as she can get some higher magnification glasses as the print is smaller than she is used to. That made me smile...


Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Emily's Gooey Toffee Chocolate Trifle --- yum!

Recipes for the cookbook have been coming in and some of them sound sooooo good. Since today is such a bleak, cold and icky day, I thought this might brighten it about. It comes from my niece Emily in California.....

Emily’s Brownie Trifle
Emily says, “I do not have  a trifle dish so I usually just make them in pretty glasses.”


Make your favorite brownies from a box or scratch.  (Emily says she loves Ghiradelli’s)


Make 1 package of chocolate instant pudding according to directions only substitute 1/2 of the milk with evaporated milk.  It is much richer this way.


Whip 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks start to form.  Then add  1 tbsp of confectioners sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla. Whip until soft peaks form.  Be careful not to over whip.


In a trifle bowl layer the brownie, pudding, and whip cream.  Top with chopped up toffee.


Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Raspberry Gloves to go with the Raspberry Beret


I had a lot of the yarn leftover. It is the most deliciously soft angora you can imagine. So I decided to make matching gloves. I've finished one and am halfway through the second one and I love them!



Basically I used the same stitches,  Moss Stitch with a narrow Rick-Rack stitch going up the back. I've discovered a much better way of ending the fingers than I've used on previous gloves. Before I had been attempting to narrow the fingertips gradually but then I found two different glove patterns that had a much simpler solution. When you have knit the fingers long enough to be halfway up your fingernail knit a round thus: (K1, K2tog) all the way around. Then make a knit round. Then make a K2tog round. With a needle,pick up the remaining stitches and pull them tight. Make a few stitches to secure the yarn and then weave it in and move on to the next finger.


I'll write the pattern up and post it when I can. In between recipes....
Thanks for reading.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

Summer Memories: Dad's Hillbilly Picnic

My sister Anne sent a package today with recipes from her collection and one from her daughter Erica. I'm so happy that they are going to be in the new cookbook. Her son Adam just got engaged and she said she is going to urge him to send recipes too. He's a pretty good cook. I called my sister Lisa because she has been wonderful about sending recipes and we got talking about what a beautiful day this was. After so many weeks of bitter cold it was a much appreciated relief. I visited a friend today and, when I got out of my car, there was a bunch of little chickadees feasting on seeds in her garden. Chickadees are guaranteed to make you happy.


“Remember how we used to play in the woods all summer long?” Lisa said. “Remember Mary Oplet's woods... that was so wonderful.” When we were kids we played in those woods, across the road from our house, as though it was a park. In the woods there was an area that was particularly fascinating — dense with berry bushes and plants not found in any other part of the woods. Daffodils and jonquils grew there along with currant bushes, raspberries and sometimes we would find patches of scrawny wild carrots and tufts of bright chives and clumps of flowering dill. In the center of this tangle of overgrowth was the stone foundation of an old house and sometimes we would dig up old shoes, broken tea cups and canning jars. Someone once lived there.

My father told a lot of stories about that house from when he was a boy. An old spinster woman named Mary Oplet once lived there with a hundred cats. She lived alone and dressed in black and every day she walked from her house in the woods, down through the old alley that ran behind the house where Dad grew up and up to the convent where the sisters would give her lunch. As a child I loved to crawl under those bushes by Mary Opal’s house and imagine what her life was like. Though her gardens had run wild and her house had long ago fallen down there were still traces of her in old rose bushes run riot, clumps of strawberries, lilies of the valley... I remember we once found this odd little stemmed cup-like thing made of dark blue glass, like a tiny glass chalice. We took it home to clean and Mom said it was n eye wash cup, people used it to wash their eyes out. We thought that was very strange.



“And remember the clay place?” Lisa asked. How could I forget that? It was on the other side of the neighborhood, through a field, down a little hill to a stream. A woman who was a potter and ceramicist lived in a little house down there. She often discarded broken greenware and pieces of pots in the creek. Sometimes we found really cool things and, of course, the clay gathered there was the very best for making stuff with. I'm not sure how our poor mother felt about us coming home loaded down with really cool mud but she managed.


Summers were always full of such amazing discoveries. Building campfires to roast potatoes in and sleeping in pup tents in the field amid Queen Anne's Lace and buttercups. Lots of picnics.


Actually, the most famous picnic that took place every summer was one we never got to go to --- Dad's Hillbilly Picnic. When Dad was a boy he lived near the Chestnut Street Park as did a lot of other boys. They played ball in that park all summer long. Micky McMackin, who lived with his family in the house beside ours, had grown up with Dad and he was a Hillbilly, too. Every summer all the boys from that neighborhood, now grown men with homes and families, got together at Pistner's camp for the Annual Hillbilly Picnic. For Dad and Mickey it was the highlight of the summer. There were plenty of arrangements to make --- who would get the beer, what kind of food would they have? Much discussion of sausages and panhaus and potato pancakes and horseshoe rivalries.


So the Sunday of the Hillbilly picnic would come and off they would go. And darkness would fall many hours later and they would stumble back home, park sideways in the driveway or in the ditch, and fall asleep in their clothes on the floor. It went on like that for years.


Of course as the years went by the group got smaller and smaller. The last time Dad attended there were only three of them left. And then there were none...



I found a picture of their 1964 Hillbilly Picnic. That broad shouldered guy in the plaid shirt at middle-right is my Dad. I'm putting the picture in the cookbook.... I don't want those days to be forgotten.


Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Remembering Uncle Gus's Camp

Working on the family cookbook has become a preoccupation bordering on obsession --- but in a good way. A couple years ago after my Dad died I asked if I could have his slides and I have been going through them scanning some to include in the cookbook. So many faces of people long gone! And I came across a bunch of slides that were taken during picnics at my Uncle Gus's camp. What a wonderful flood of memories that brought.




My Uncle Gus Wolf was married to my Dad's sister Helen. Actually, Uncle Gus was related by marriage on both sides of the family. He was married to our father's sister and his sister, Clara, was married to our mother's Uncle Eddie. I know. You need program to keep track! But Uncle Gus owned a beer distributorship in St. Marys, which was an excellent thing to own in St. Marys, and he also owned a camp out in the woods on the way to Trout Run.


It really was just a small cement block building set back among trees on a couple acres of land. It had a large pavillion with picnic tables, an excellent grill made of stone with a tall chimney and iron grilling racks and, best of all, an outhouse --- a real outhouse. We thought that was very cool. In the summer there were frequent picnics held at Uncle Gus's camp and all the aunts and uncles and cousins were there. It was a perfect place for kids to run wild.


There was, of course, always a ton of food. I have memories of pigs-in-a-blanket and baked beans and my mother's pickled eggs and all kinds of desserts. And, naturally, plenty of Uncle Gus's beer. The grownups came to play cards, endless games of cards at the picnic tables. The kids came to play ball on the lawn in front of the camp, catch polliwogs and lizards in the creek that ran under a little bridge near the entrance, pick blackberries and strawberries along the edge of the field that bordered the woods, and explore the woods behind the camp.



That woods was an absolute wonder to me. Though there were woods surrounding our neighborhood at home, this woods always seemed deeper and darker and more fascinating. There were trails that lead through the trees and the best part of the woods was a wonderful little spring that still shows up in my dreams sometime. Someone had inserted a metal pipe into the side of the hill for the water to run through and then built a little pool of stones to catch the water. The stones were covered with lush, silky green moss and all sorts of tiny woodland flowers sprouted in the cracks and crevices between the stones. Whoever built that well had made a little niche in the stone where an old china teacup, missing its handle, had been placed. Everyone drank out of it. There were no germs back then, or not as far as we knew anyway. I loved sitting beside it listening to the water trickle into the pool. There were often small frogs in the water and dragonflies buzzed around it. That spring was there for everyone, bugs and critters included.


I learned a lot about cooking at Uncle Gus's camp as I listened to the aunts talk endlessly about food. I got to know my cousins there and played beanbag games and ball with them. I read books leaning against the mossy wall of the spring there. I remember sitting there reading Gene Stratton Porter's Girl of the Limberlost and imagining this was my own limberlost. My Dad taught my brothers and I to shoot a gun while there. I remember my Grandmother Valentine holding my sister Chris who was only a few months old and saying to my mother, “Oh, Maryann, this is your prettiest one yet!” Grandma died not long after that.


So, I'm writing this down so it can be part of the cookbook, part of the lore of a family. I'm so grateful for this project, it comes with such sweet benefits.


Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Persistence of Romance: A Reader's Review of Each Angel Burns

A reader sent me this review after reading Each Angel Burns. She said she will be posting it to Amazon. THANK YOU!


The Persistence of Romance

"I caught this wisp of an old love song," my friend said, "and I was lifted right out of time. Suddenly, I was dancing with a man long gone, afloat in the rapture of a moment long passed. I was stunned that those feelings were still in me, so many years later." My friend's remark brought to mind a book I had just read, "Each Angel Burns," by Kathleen Valentine.

Valentine has the ability to convey the spectrum of love and passion, from gentle ripples to sweeping tides, tossing up on the shore of memory our own deepest feelings. Her characters are full-blown adults whose graying hair does not signify a dulling of openness but instead a mature capacity to embrace the richness and complexity of romance in the third trimester of life.

Valentine has a gift for capturing the nuances of men falling in love and questioning their long-held values. The men in her story are each unique -- from the dutiful Gabe to his irreverent father, Mick, and from the brutish Sinclair, to the handsome, elusive priest, Peter. Each man fascinates in his own singular way.

The back-story behind the romance is a taunting mystery with dark secrets, betrayal, infidelity and murder. Steeped in gothic Catholic ambience that includes a crumbling crypt, an ancient convent and a statue of the Archangel Gabriel that holds the answer to a mystery, "Each Angel Burns" is a love story that propels the reader to a satisfying (and surprising) finale.

I am a big fan of Valentine. Her latest book is my favorite -- so far, at least.


Monday, January 11, 2010

More Photos and Pages from the Cookbook

I spent the entire weekend working on the family cookbook. As I work on it I am mindful of the fact that I am creating a resource for my nieces and nephews but I also want it to be a rich source for Pennsylvania Dutch recipes and cooking methods. It's amazing how, when writing about one thing, so many other things come to mind. So I need to keep writing...


I found an envelope full of photos that I scanned. I LOVE the reminders of what were everyday parts of life while growing up in St. Marys, Pennsylvania.


 
This is Me and Dad working in his shop cutting up a pig for sausage making. I'm showing Beth how to cut the hide away. She looks skeptical...



Meanwhile upstairs in her kitchen, Mom is making peanut butter Easter eggs. She's forming the peanut butter centers before dipping in chocolate.
 
This is Jack making sausage in Dad's downstairs kitchen. His buddy Willie and daughter Amy help. Look at the old-fashioned cast iron grinder he is using.

 

Mom taking another turkey out of the oven. She once told me she'd never say it to anyone else but every holiday she thought, "Another holiday, another @#$%ing turkey." I won't put that in the book.


These are a few spreads from the book.

 


  

 



Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pictures from the Past

I've spent the entire weekend digging up old photos, scanning them and putting them into the cookbook, along with recipes. It is sort of fascinating to realize that the history of a family in a time and in a place can be told in food... But here are a few treasures:



Three nephews: Adam Neubert, Dustin Valentine, and Mark Valentine




Four young'uns: Dustin on top, Emily Neubert, Laura Valentine and Adam

 
When you're German it is never too early to learn to peel potatoes: 
Amy Valentine

 
Dad teaching grandchildren the right way to toast marshmallows: 
Erica Neubert, Cal Bretz and Alicia Webb



Mom & Dad at Nubble Point Light. My last photo of Mom, she died the following Spring




Little Miss Snooty Puss
 
Texas Renaissance Festival, 1985


Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Oh, yes, I really need more fabric...

I considered taking a picture of my current fabric stash --- I should say “pictures” because all of it would never fit in one --- but I decided that was too scary so I just photographed the four most recent additions. Yes, I went a little nutty on eBay AGAIN and, no, I'm not sure what I am going to do with it but that's not important.



Actually, I've been doing some research on designs for what has come to be known as “artisan jackets”. The term seems to be a very loose one and can apply to anything from a patchwork cotton jacket to some genuinely bizarre concoctions with all sorts of stuff appliqued to them. But somewhere in the middle are some very beautiful creations that combine several lovely fabrics in similar weights and artful design. The secret, as near as I can figure it, is to collect several fabrics in a similar color scheme, or coordinating design. Then choose a pattern with simple lines --- the kimono is a perfect choice --- and have fun combining the fabrics to create something unique. That may be my next sewing challenge.


These are the four latest additions to my collection. Each piece is 4 yards by 45 or more inches so there is enough to really do something amazing:






This is 100% silk duiponi in a color called “magenta”. I think it is a bit lighter than I envision magenta but it is still gorgeous. The weight of this piece is what makes it exceptional. It has nice body and a gorgeous drape. It may be destined for a dressy shirt all on its own.





 





This is a very beautiful but strange metallic brocade. It appears to be black embroidered with gold but when it moves in the light there is a hint of green around the leaf part of the design and of rose around the flower part of the design. I think it is too strong for a single garment but will make a beautiful accent.




 





These two pieces are a mid-weight cotton velvet that has a lot of body and an unusual surface texture. It looks like the pattern is in the background and then it is given dimension with a slightly longer pile of black threads in a honeycomb pattern. One has a pattern of leaves in rose, peach, and sage and the other is a floral in deeper colors of rose, purple and emerald green.








So, well, what can I say? Who knows what they will become. I have been so preoccupied with the new family cookbook that I haven't thought much about knitting or sewing lately but I have this notion way, way in the back of my head for a new venture. It would involve taking four basic designs --- maybe a kimono, a simple jacket, a tote bag, and a luxurious scarf --- and showing how to use interesting combinations of fabric to create unique works of wearable art.


I plan to work on it in my spare time.


Thanks for reading.

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