Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seaman Scarves Fund-raiser on March 2 at Cape Ann Brewery

The pattern is ready!!!

In a previous blog I talked about using the very old, traditional knitting pattern for Seaman's Scarves as a possible fund-raiser here in Gloucester. The Seaman's Scarves are used for endeavors such as  Christmas at Sea, a project The Seaman's Church Institute. Ever since 1898, during the Spanish American War, The Seaman's Church Institute has sent thousands of packages to mariners at Christmas time. Included in the packages are hand-knit items donated by knitters from around the country. These include watch caps, socks, vests, and, of course, scarves, in addition to lip balm, hand lotion and toothpaste and brushes. Last year over 10,000 garments were sent by knitters and thousands more were needed. (They also offer information on how citizens can help our mariners who are the victims of pirates at sea.) Their web site offers a list of free patterns in PDF format for both knit and crocheted patterns for the items they need.

Subsequently I designed 2 original Seaman's Scarves. One is in Aran Style:
 

And the other is Guernsey Style:

 

I am writing the directions for these scarves and Tuesday night, March 2nd, at 6:30, I will be at Cape Ann Brewery with the patterns. Knitters are invited to come and "purchase" a pattern for whatever donation they would like to make. Cape Ann Brewery has graciously offered to match whatever is donated and the proceeds will be donated to the fund for the children of Matteo Russo, a Gloucester fisherman who was lost, along with his crew in January of 2009. I will be present to help knitters get started on the pattern, if they wish (bring worsted weight yarn and size 8 needles) and I'll help anyone who is interested with either of the patterns.

This should be a great time -- an opportunity to learn something new, do some good for our community and have an excuse to drink Cape Ann Brewery's scrumptious product. I look forward to seeing you there....

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Allure of the Unavailable Male

A couple months ago I wrote a blog about The Allure of the Dark in which I mentioned a television miniseries called Wire in the Blood that I was hooked on. The problem with getting hooked on a series like that is that when you run out of episodes there is nothing more to look forward to. So, after that was over I started watching HBO's Big Love but I soon lost interest. The story was fairly interesting but, other than Barb the long-suffering first wife, I didn't much care for any of the characters. It had some of the dark allure of The Sopranos but lacked the charisma, at least in my opinion. Then I stumbled upon the 13 episodes of NBC's 2006 series Kidnapped. What the hell were they thinking when they canceled that?

I don't ever recall being as sucked in to a series as I became to that one. I watched all 13 episodes over a long weekend and then started watching them again. I called Leslie, my Netflix Watch Now partner, and ordered her to watch it. She did and quickly agreed with me that it was mesmerizing. Talk about complex with twists and turn, the intensity was almost unbearable.

Well, of course, after the 13 episodes were viewed and viewed again it was time to look for something new but Leslie and I kept talking about it and we agreed that it had many similarities to Wire in the Blood not the least of which was a main character who was good-looking, fascinating, unbearably sexy, and totally unavailable.

Lucian Knapp is nothing like Dr. Tony Hill. He is dark and brooding and has a mysterious past that involves escaping from a religious cult, serving in the military and then the FBI, winding up in a mental hospital, and now he is a specialist who recovers kidnapped children. He has a gorgeous female sidekick, Turner, who assures others they are not sharing a bed (“I might but he'd never...”) but who obviously cares deeply for him. Like Turner, Leslie and I definitely felt the attraction.

The character of Knapp is played by Jeremy Sisto who is a very fine actor. I saw him in The Movie Hero and thought it was one of the funniest movies I ever saw. But his portrayal of the aloof, distant Knapp is steamy in the extreme. Sisto once played Jesus in another television mini-series (talk bout your unavailable men!) and there is no denying he is fun to watch but it is Knapp that is fairly unforgettable.

I suppose a therapist would say that women who are attracted to unavailable men have personal issues that they should get help for before they waste their lives on one disappointment or another. I suppose in real life there is much to be said for that but I think there is something else. Any woman who has ever loved a man, especially a “tough guy”, can tell you they love him the most when he lets her see his vulnerable side. It's that contrast thing, yeah, but it's also that moment of shared intimacy in which he lets himself trust her with something he keeps from the rest of the world.

Someone once said about my short stories and books that the thing that comes across most powerfully while reading them is that I love men --- that I love maleness and lack the chip-on-the-shoulder that is often so prevalent in contemporary women's fiction. I took that as a great compliment. I hope it is true. I cannot tell you how many books I have put aside by women authors because the men in their stories were either wimps, bastards, fools, or creeps. I remember when I read Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid's Chair that, though I liked much about the book, I thought both of the male characters were so bland and gutless I could barely finish the book. Yes, I know there are a lot of guys like that but there are a lot of the other kind too.

Maybe there are several things at work here. One is the sense that a guy like Tony Hill or Lucian Knapp would be a challenge but a challenge worth risking. But also there is the sense that some men who seem unavailable are really more self-protective. They are tough on the outside because they know how soft they are on the inside. And we know how much we are going to love being the one he trusts with that. At least for 13 episodes....

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It never fails...........

... no matter how hard you try to organize something there is always one thing that gets left out. In this case it is the recipe for a cake my sister Lisa says is the most delicious cake she has ever tasted. She had a piece at her friend Tim's birthday party and couldn't stop talking about how wonderful it was. She tried to get the recipe for the cookbook but wasn't able to track it down and then, sure enough, someone sent it to her. Oh well.... maybe next edition...

From Lisa (at left with Wayne's Laura):
Here at last, the world's greatest cake- I didn't get the recipe in time to get it into the cookbook.  Someone made it for my friend Tim for his birthday and it is the yummiest cake I've ever eaten.  I never would have thought it would be that easy to make.

Kahlua Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 (6 oz.) box instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
1 C. vegetable oil
1/4 C. rum
3/4 C. water
Combine all ingredients and mix on low for 4 minutes.  Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes.  Cool 15 minutes before turning out. 
Glaze
Mix 1/2 C. powdered sugar and 1/4 C. Kahlua.  Drizzle over turned out cake while still hot.


____________________________________________________________
UPDATE: I made dinner tonight in my mini-crockpot and it was delicious so I decided to post the recipe:
CROCKPOT WHISKEY & ONION PORK ROAST
I sauted an onion sliced very thin until it carmelized. Then I cut the bone out of a 3 lb. pork roast and spread it out. Sprinkle with coarse hickory-smoked pepper, garlic powder, a little crushed red pepper, and a little brown sugar. Layer on the onions. Roll it up and stuff it in the crockpot (it just fit). Pour on 1/4 c. bourbon and 1 tbsp. liquid smoke and cook on high for 6 hours. It just fell apart and was unbelievably delicious!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Challenge: Two Vintage Fur Coats

Now that the cookbook is off to press and the next novel is a long way away I decided I needed to try something different. Creatively I find it stimulating to give myself new challenges from time to time and, since I've recently acquired two new "treasures" I'm going to give those a try. A friend, who is a thrift store-addict, recently gave me two absolutely stuning vintage fur coats she found in thrift stores. Each of them was under $20 because they had areas of damage. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The first one is a gorgeous mink:
It is a rather small size and not very long but it has an absolutely lavish collar.

 
 The lining is a plush embossed satin with the name (probably of the original owner) embroidered inside....

Unfortunately the pelts have split in a couple places on the shoulders and sleeves:

 

The second coat is a medium sized, longish rabbit in the most beautiful shade of plum:

 
It doesn't have much of a collar but the sleeves are very wide with deep cuffs.

The lining is plum-colored satin and the label says "Carole Little":
As you can see in the photo below there is a lot of damage to the collar:


I wish you could see the color of this coat. It is just gorgeous --- a deep, dusky plum.
So this is my challenge -- to take these coats apart, salvage what is good, and make something new from that. I doubt I would every buy a fur coat (even if I could afford it) but since these are vintage furs that have been damaged I am looking at this as a rescue/recycling adventure.

If anyone has experience in recycling old furs, I'd love to hear your opinions. And if anyone has suggestions, I am open to those, too.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oh no! Not more S.E.X.!

Oh, come on, you know better than that. This is a family blog. But for those of you who are non-knitters, S.E.X. means Stash Enhancement eXpedition --- in other words adding to the stash that really does not need any adding to but who ever let that stop them?

Well, my box arrived from KnitPicks last night and it was full of goodies:
Ever since I published The Mermaid & other Beauties I've gotten requests for more designs like the Blue Tulip Shawl and the Rose Shearwater Wrap. So, because I really loved making those designs I decided to order yarn to make a few more variations on them. The Blue Tulip wrap was knit from Knit Picks' Merino Style so I ordered 6 balls each in three more colors: Fog (gray), Storm (blue), and Fairy Tale (burgundy). They are so soft and rich in color. I can't wait to get started on them.

I've also been making some quick-to-knit projects and one of my favorites is lacy head bands. I ordered one skein of Elegance in Cornflower (above). This is one of my favorite yarns. It is a blend of alpaca and silk and it is well underway. Since I also wanted to try making a couple designs that can be worn in warmer weather I ordered 2 skeins of their CotLin (below) in Lantana and Glacier. I love the names of these yarns!

The yarn below isn't from KnitPicks. I bought it from an eBay vendor and it is 95% cashmere and 5% nylon for strength. It is a very fine chenille and I just wound it up into balls. It is so light and beautiful! I have no idea what to do with it but I think a light, lacy summer shrug would be nice.
 

As you can see in the closeup below it has a gorgeous luster. I'm really looking forward to getting to work on this.
 
So that is a little about my latest S.E.X. adventures. If you are a knitter I'm sure you'll appreciate how exciting this is.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And what is this tasty thing?

With all the talk of cookbook stuff lately I haven't talked much about knitting. Last night was Knit Night at Cape Ann Brewery but it was a cold, nasty night so they have rescheduled it for next week which I am glad of. I missed going but wasn't bold enough to brave the elements. But I have actually been doing some knitting and recently finished this:

No, it's not a furry corset. It is a smoke ring made with the leftovers from the raspberry angora that I used to make my raspberry beret and gloves. I began at the top and knit my way down increasing stitches so that it drapes nicely round the shoulders.


I intend to write up the pattern --- along with the patterns for the gloves and the marketing bags as soon as I can make the time to do that. In the meantime I am awaiting a shipment from KnitPicks. O fraptious day! Like I need more yarn...

Thanks for reading....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In Honor of Valentine's Day: Cultivating Romance

from The Gloucester Daily Times, February 14, 2000

I was born with the name Valentine and have always been glad of that. When I was in college and first read James Joyce I, like Stephen Daedelus, began to wonder at the meaning of my name. Was there an epiphany in it for me as there was for him? I've been wondering for quite a few years now and every year as Valentine's Day approaches my quest seems renewed. Valentine's Day, like most things deemed anyway significant in this country, has become a commercial bonanza. Every store is filled with flaming red hearts, cherubs, and glaring reminders of how spending even more will truly declare ones love. All of this designed to make those in love feel guilty for not doing enough and to make those not in love feel like crawling under a rock. I keep reminding myself - this is not about love, this is about commerce.

But what about love, most especially romantic love, for that is what Valentine's Day reminds us of. Life, I believe, holds infinite potential for romance - in every minute, in every action. We have this notion that to be romantic we have to find that special someone and then make all the right moves, say the right words. But I believe that true romance is how we live our lives. It is not about finding the right person, it is about being the right person. It is about opening your soul and your mind and your senses to all the pleasures possible in every moment.

I stop by Bill's house on a rainy afternoon. Mario Lanza's glorious voice fills the house. Bill is in the kitchen chopping tomatoes and garlic, tearing up basil leaves, making meatballs. The smells are succulent. "Taste this," he says lifting a spoon to my lips, his sky blue eyes aglow. "Luscious", I say. "I love to spend rainy afternoons cooking," he tells me.

Mary brings me a velvety rose the color of ripe Tuscan figs split open by the sun. "I was cleaning out a corner of the old garden last summer and I found the remains of this withered rose bush", she tells me, "I dug it up and nursed it all winter. I know it sounds crazy but I wanted so much to bring it back to life and now look…." Its perfume rises like a lark on a summer morning.
My brother Jack sends me a bottle of homemade wine. Every summer he tramps the woods of the Allegheny Mountains where he lives filling his pack with wild grapes. He distills them in to wine the color of liquid rubies with a taste like mountain laurel glowing in the sunlight and the songs of robins just before a summer rain.

Betty Lou forgets to come to lunch. "I was outside painting," she explains later , "and the clouds were so incredible I couldn't leave. I had to paint them while they were there."

Charlie works late in to the night in his woodshop in back of the house. He has a perfect piece of golden walnut he is shaping in to a jewelry box for his daughter's birthday. He sings along to old Frank Sinatra records as he works. I can hear his husky baritone while I stir a pot of rice pudding fragrant with saffron and cardamom in my kitchen. Trudi lights lilac scented candles and stitches tiny pink seashells to golden ribbons decorating the baskets she fills with magical gifts. Sharon fills her bird feeders and grooms her cats. Robin plants night-blooming jasmine under her bedroom window. Michael climbs the stone wall at Lane's Cove and plays his flute as the sun sets over the water.

This, I believe, is romance. This is life well and truly lived with a taste for the indescribable pleasure of beauty. This is the touch of the Lover. My father once told me that I was lucky because God had given me the gift of eyes which see beauty everywhere. I believe him but I also believe I inherited those eyes from my father - along with my romantic last name.

The wallpaper on my computer screen is a close up of the faces of the lovers in Ruben's painting "The Union of Earth and Water" - my favorite painting. I love it partly because the lovers Ruben's shows are mature lovers - his beard gray, her body softened and relaxed by life. But mostly I love it for the looks in their eyes - not fiery passion, not sentimental longing, but the most enduring of romantic love - love of beauty and open appreciation. When we cultivate appreciation and learn to look with love our days are filled with romance and every gesture is a Valentine to life.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Endless Memories

          Editing and refining the stories for the family cookbook has set off such a storm of memories. It's wonderful but also intimidating. I keep thinking about things I wished I had remembered to put in the book. Yesterday I got a little package from my cousin John Werner in Virginia which included some photographs that got me remembering even more stuff. The photo at left is of John when he was in first grade with his teacher, Esther Werner, who was also his cousin.
           John is the son of our Grandfather Werner's brother Leo. Esther is the daughter of their brother George. But what I especially loved is the two steeples in the background of the picture. The smaller one is the St. Marys Church, called “the German church” by locals, in which my mother grew up, and the tall one is Sacred Heart Church where Dad went to church and where I was baptized and received First Holy Communion.
           Everyone knows I love to tell stories about my Dad but this is a pretty cool story about HIS Dad ---- seems to run in the family. Long after Dad was retired he got a call one day from one of the priests at the German church. Could he stop by the rectory, they had something to show him. So he went.
The priest told him they were doing some construction in the choir loft when they tore down one wall and there, neatly placed between the walls was an ancient whiskey bottle with a note inside. The priest took it back to the rectory and,with the help of a couple chopsticks, managed to roll up the note and extract it without damaging the old bottle. On the slip of paper was the following: “Drunk by us on December 24, 192--” (I forget the year but Dad said he was a little boy when this happened). It was signed by three men (none too steadily) including William Valentine, Dad's father who he always called “Pop”. The other two signatures were the fathers of two guys Dad had grown up with. Apparently they had been doing some repair work and, since it was the day before Christmas, decided to have a little celebration, then sealed the incriminating evidence up in the church wall where it stayed for seventy years.
           I keep searching through old boxes of stuff and finding other treasures I forgot about for years and years. Last night I found a photocopy of my Great-grandfather Valentine's obituary. He died on January 22, 1918. “Mr. Valentine,” it said, “had been in ill health since last Thanksgiving day but was able to be about until last Thursday when he took to his bed from which he never arose. Death was due to the infirmities of old age.” Old age being 82. He was born, according to the article, in May 1836 in Cavinville, Ontario, Canada. And (I think this is sweet --- and appropriate) was married to Mary Lamar on February 14, 1868. (The article notes, “Eight children were born to this blessed union.”) Not only was a carpenter like his son, grandson and great-grandson but also a “high constable and chief of police”. I love the language in these old obituaries, “He was a man who enjoyed the esteem and respect of all, being square in all his dealings.”
           I also discovered one of my Grandfather Werner's “time” books in which he kept track of who he worked for, how much time he spent, when he billed them and what they paid. There is an assortment of old school report cards, holy cards with death announcements on them and a few old photos of people I can't identify.
           What does one do with these things? My friend Clare is building scrap books of stuff she is compiling of her family's history. We were talking about it last night and she said she wished she could make copies to pass out to her family members but that would be a herculean task as she has two big binders full of stuff.
           For years my Dad kept track of things that were important to him by writing them on the side of his furnace in the shop. He recorded weather extremes, when he got or lost a new dog (he loved beagles), what he paid for a load of coal, and other notable events. It used to amuse us to go down in his shop and “read the furnace”. Then one day he got tired of all that history and painted over it.
So, life goes on. New generations are born and old ones are forgotten. But there is some sweetness in passing few things on --- stories, recipes, photos. A furnace might be too much but remembering it is nice.
           Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

And the final tally is... 382 recipes

Over the weekend I compiled the Index for the new cookbook. The totalis 382 recipesin the following categories. After each category I've listed a few samples of the recipes included. We have one more proof-reading to go and then it's off to press!

From "Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family and Friends Cookbook":

BEANS, CORN & OTHER VEGGIES – 18 recipe
Great-aunt Mary’s Baked Beans, Chewy Lima Beans, Scalloped Corn

BEEF, PORK & OTHER MAIN DISHES – 19 recipes
Hassenpfeffer, Liver Dumplings, Piroghi, Soltz (Sultz)

BREADS, BISQUITS & MUFFINS – 23 recipes
Amish Friendship Bread, Great-Aunt Mary Dippold’s Keuchels, Mom’s Home-made Bread,

CABBAGE & SAUERKRAUT – 5 recipes
Dad’s Sauerkraut Casserole, Gram’s Sauerkraut , Great-Grandmother’s Cooked Cabbage

CAKES, CHEESECAKES & PANCAKES – 31 recipess
Anne’s Apple Puff Pancake, Great-grandm.Woelfel’s Moultasha, Mom's Cherry-Date Cream Cheese Cake

CANDY & BROWNIES – 9 recipes
Aunt Helen’s Penoche, Mom’s Home-made Easter Eggs, Tino’s Truffles

CHILI – 5 recipes
Lisa’s Cincinnati Chili, Tasha’s Chili

CHOWDER – 6 recipes
Aunt Rosie’s Best Salmon, Emily’s Chicken, Potato, and Corn

COOKIES – 27 recipes
Gram’s Pecan Tassies, Maple Syrup Cookies w. Lemon Icing, Mom’s Ginger, Wayne’s No-Roll Sugar Cookies

DIPS & SPREADS – 10 recipes
Amy’s Beer, Gram's Lulu Paste, Linda’s Delicious Buffalo Chicken

DRINKS – 11 recipes
Matt's Bourbon Slush, Skip and Go Naked, Jack's Wild Grape Wine

MEATLOAF & GROUND BEEF MAIN DISHES -15 recipes
Aunt Mary Rita’s Cabbage Rolls, Meatloaf-stuffed Meatloaf, Pigs-In-A-Blanket

PICKLES – 14 recipes
Jack’s Old-Fashioned Crock Dills, Gram’s Strip Pickles, Pickled Peaches, Sweet & Sour Pickles with Peppers

PIES, CRISPS & TARTS – 27 recipes
Apricot-Apple Crisp w/ Maple Cream, Caramel Peachy-Pear Pandowdy, Gram Werner’s Apple Dumplings, Rhubarb Crisp, Succulent Honey & White Peach Pie

POTATOES & GRAINS – 15 recipes
Aunt Rosie’s Hot Potato Salad, Gram’s Potato Pancakes, Potato-Onion Dumplings, Oven-Browned Potatoes

POULTRY MAIN DISHES – 21 recipes
Gram’s Chicken Casserole, Excellent Fried Chicken, Walter Struble’s Smoked Turkey

RED BEETS – 6 recipes
Oven-roasted Red Beets, Pickled Red Beets & Eggs, Tangy Red Beets & Cabbage

RELISHES & SAUCES, SPICY – 22 recipes
Adam’s Hot Pepper-Garlic Jelly, Dad’s Tomato Marmalade, Mom’s Fruit Relish, Pauline’s Green Tomato Relish

SALADS – 7 recipes
Gram’s Dandelion, Great Aunt Annie’s Carrot

SAUSAGE & JERKY- 12 recipes
Jack’s Smoked Sausage, Jack’s Venison or Beef Jerky, Smoked Liver Pudding

SAVORIES – 5 recipes
Anne’s Deep Frying Batter, Cheese Yummies

SEAFOOD & FISH – 13 recipes
Anne’s Seafood Lasagne, Gram’s Salmon Cakes, Haddock in Cream

SLAWS – 4 recipes
Kohlrabi Slaw, Mom’s Freezer Cole Slaw

SOUP – 29 reipes
Aunt Tressie’s Nibblies, Mom’s Chicken Noodle w. Homemade Egg Noodles, Sauerkraut Soup, Yellow Bean & Ham

STEW – 7 recipes
Jack’s Turtle,  Sauerbraten

SWEETS – 9 recipes
Caramel Pudding & Caramel Sauce, Lemon Velvet, Fruits of Winter Conserve

Much to my delight this project has gone really fast. I look forward to seeing the final product.

Thanks for reading....

Monday, February 08, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Hot and Sour Soup

After I posted my blog on soup last week I got this message from Bonnie Jundzillo Wohlford. She is the daughter of my cousin Jean Jundzillo who contributed many recipes to the new cookbook. Bonnie had this to say about my latest recipe: 

I made the PA dutch hot and sour soup last night...I have to say it was SOOOOO good... I had my doubts when I was putting it together...lol but after it all came together I couldn't believe the flavor it had!! My husband ate two bowls of it... and he usually only does one! He gave it a 3 and half star out of 4! I'm giving it a 4...it was perfect! Thanks for sharing....
 So, because Bonnie gave the soup such a good review, I'm posting the recipe again.....
_______________________________________________
I love Hot and Sour Soup but I don't really like tofu or bamboo shoots, I often pick them out of Chinese Hot and Sour Soup. So last night I decided to make a Hot and Sour Soup of my own. I call this Pennsylvania Dutch Hot and Sour Soup because it involves a few things that are standard in PA Dutch cooking --- cabbage, vinegar, pork and onions. So here's what I did:

Pennsylvania Dutch Hot and Sour Soup 
  • In my big Dutch oven I browned a pound of ground pork, breaking it up into fine pieces as it browned and draining out the fat as it formed.
  • Cut a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs into small pieces and added them to the pork with 2 medium onions sliced in half lengthwise and then sliced fine. Let this cook until the chicken is becoming opaque.
  • Take a head of cabbage and slice it in half. With a large, sharp knife cut fine slices of cabbage like you would for sauerkraut. Add 2-3 handfuls to the pot and stir cooking until the cabbage begins to be translucent. Add 12 oz. of sliced brown (Crimini) mushrooms.
  • When the cabbage looks nearly done add two cans or one box of chicken broth and lots of pepper (about 1 tbsp.) Bring to a boil and add ¼ c. cider vinegar and 2 tsp salt.
  • Mix 2 tbsp corn starch with ¼ c. water and pour carefully into the broth, cook to thicken. Beat 2 eggs with 2 tbsp cold water. When broth is thick and bubbling, drizzle the egg into it moving the mixture back and forth over the surface of the stew as you pour. 
  • Turn off heat and let sit 5 mins. for eggs to set.
When I ladled it into the bowl I floated a little bit of dark sesame oil on the surface and added some chopped, fresh cilantro. It was so delicious --- very chicken-y and smooth. I actually wound up adding a couple shakes of Mongolian Fire Oil because it wasn't quite hot enough for my tastes but that's a personal thing. 
There is a big bowl of it in the fridge and I am looking forward to lunch. I may add a bit more vinegar and I also have a package of frozen pea pods I've thought about putting in. But, anyway, this is a very nutritious soup with lots of veggies and not a lot of carbs.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Afterword: Treat Yourself to the Best

The new cookbook is nearing completion. Today I wrote the Afterword to the book:
           In my 2006 short story collection, My Last Romance & other passions, there is a short story called “Treat Yourself To the Best”. It is about a young woman from a north central Pennsylvania rural town who moves to Philadelphia and meets and marries a guy from a well-bred suburban family. She genuinely loves her family but whenever she takes her husband back there to visit she is both a little embarrassed by her lively, exuberant, boisterous family and astonished that her elegant husband loves being with them so much. In the story, she returns with her husband for a sausage-stuffing party in their barn. The barn itself has always embarrassed her because it is one of the Mail Pouch Tobacco barns that were once so ubiquitous in Pennsylvania. The signs on the barn reads, “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco: Treat Yourself to the Best”.
           Fifi, the heroine of the story, cannot quite understand why Tim, her husband, is so fascinated by her family and so enthusiastic about participating in their activities --- such as stuffing sausage. I wrote the story because, once I left Pennsylvania, I was always aware of how much people loved it when I would tell about the things that, to me, where normal parts of life --- making huge crocks of sauerkraut, pickling and preserving whatever the garden yielded, spending hours on old logging trails filling buckets with blackberries or in fields picking wild strawberries. To me that was just what people did. I was unaware of the fact that there were people who had never spent warm spring days kneeling in the yard digging up dandelions for that night's dinner.
           I'm sure there are other cultural heritages that incorporate whatever bounty the world has to offer but among Pennsylvania Dutch people making good use of nature and finding ways to use it and preserve it is a long standing tradition.
           Most Pennsylvania Dutch families evolved from immigrants who were peasants in “the Old Country”. They learned, out of necessity, to use everything they could to feed their families and they devised ways of preserving those things through the long, harsh winters. Pickling, preserving, smoking, canning were necessary to get a large family through the bitterly cold winter months. As I worked on this cookbook I was continually aware of how so much of the food that was part of family tradition was also making good use of commonly available food sources that were abundant and cheap. My Gram Werner used to say that the reason pigs were so valuable was because you could use every part of them except the squeak. In the cold hill country of Pennsylvania, where maple trees grew in such abundance, maple syrup was a frequently used sweetener. Cows were kept for milk, cream, butter, cheese and sour cream. When I read these recipes now some seem so rich and loaded with calories but back then people needed those rich, calorie-laden foods to see them through long days in the fields or the factories or lumbering in the forests.
           Contrary to opinion the term Pennsylvania Dutch does not just refer to the “plain people”, the Amish, Mennonites, etc. Many of the families who fled to Pennsylvania from Germany and Bavaria in the nineteenth century were Catholic, too. They came to this country seeking both freedom of religion and the hopes of a better way of life. Gram told me that her parents worked on a big estate on the edge of the Black Forest. Her father was a blacksmith and tinker and her mother was a housemaid. They wanted to marry and raise a family but there was little hope of that for them in the old country so they, like thousands of other immigrants left the world of their forefathers and set off to the new world. With them they brought their dreams and hopes as well as their traditions and customs. That included making good use of everything they could find. Whether it was making quilts out of worn out garments or making sausages out of the less-useful parts of their pigs and cows, they found a way.
           When I was a kid my Dad would sometimes buy a few chickens, feed them for a few weeks to fatten them up, and then butcher them to freeze for the winter. Some of the hens would have unlaid eggs inside of them when they were being dressed out. He would scoop out the tiny eggs, butter yellow and about the size of marbles before the shell was formed, and put them in a bowl. Then my mother would cook up one of the chickens in a kettle of water with carrots and celery and, when the chicken had yielded a rich broth, she would bring it to rolling boil and drizzle in the tiny eggs. This yielded a soup that was unbelievably rich and delicious. I can only remember having it a few times but I still remember the taste. I know I'll never have it again but the memory is wonderful to me.
           It has taken me the better part of sixty years to realize how fortunate I was to grow up the way I did. It is why I wanted to write this book, both for my nieces and nephews and their children, and for everyone else who remembers or dreams of a way of life that has become all too rare. This is the story of my family but it could be the story of any immigrant family's first, second and third generations. It could be the story of your family as well as mine.
           We didn't have a barn that read Treat Yourself to the Best, but we had a combination playhouse and tool shed with a huge, colorful Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign on it. My Dad painted it himself and actually made up the design. One of our neighbors, Bill Weis who lived cross the street,used to tease Dad that it was the hex sign for fertility. He said that because we were a family of ten but he was actually quite correct. Fertility means abundance and fruitfulness and those are qualities that filled our lives --- with love, and imagination, and creativity, and the homely goodness of delicious food, well-prepared. May future generations be as blessed. 

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Wild Hearts: The Rewrite

I wrote the original version of this post in 2001 after the incident described in the story. I am rewriting it to include in the family cookbook...

    In 2001 my Dad was 82 years old and living alone in our family home after the death of our mother in 1996. One of my friends always says he counts it a good thing to have a character for a father. If that is true I was  abundantly blessed. My Dad could be cantankerous and contentious but was never boring. He loved living in the Allegheny Highlands whose miles and miles of woodlands he hunted, fished and camped since boyhood.
    After Mom died, Dad spent a lot of his time hanging out with a group of old buddies he’d known since childhood, most of them widowers as well. One of them, called Woodley, was 98 years old and nearly blind when this story took place. Woodley had been a barber all his life and Dad, who had a head of thick, curly hair until the day he died at the age of 89, had been a customer of Woodley’s for years. I remember well the last time Woodley cut his hair, it was long past the time when Woodley’s eyesight was up for hair-cutting and Dad came home looking pretty lop-sided. My mother took one look at him and said, “Good God, Jack, you look like Ziggy Stardust.”
    So it was a bitterly cold Saturday morning in February and I was here in Gloucester getting ready to go to a painting class when the phone rang and I got the frightening news, Dad and Woodley had been missing since the previous afternoon and no one had a clue where they were.  It was cold enough here but well below zero in Pennsylvania. Both Dad and Woodley grew up in the woods and always loved it. One of their favorite past-times was driving the hundreds of miles of backcountry logging trails that thread their way through those rich timberlands.
    Around three o’clock Friday afternoon Dad bought a dozen donuts and headed for Woodley’s house. When he did not return home that evening my brother Wayne started making phone calls. By midnight the State Police, the area rescue units, friends, family and countless others with flashlights and pickup trucks were combing the Allegheny Forest.
    It was a very long and fruitless night for the searchers and an even longer night for the the two being searched for. What happened was they had headed off down a logging trail through the forests of Elk County. As they were driving down a steep grade a wheel went in to a hole. Failing to dig it out they were stuck spending the night in the woods, running the heater just enough to keep from freezing, talking, and wishing they hadn’t forgotten the donuts.
    Throughout the night, as the searchers, criss-crossed the county,  Woodley dozed on and off but Dad stayed awake. Later he told stories about the night. Woodley, he said, would wake up suddenly and start giving him driving directions. “Take a turn right up there, Tino,” he’d say, “right by that McDonald’s.”
    “McDonald’s?” Dad replied, “what do you say I pull in there and you run in and get us some pancakes?”
    It’s easy to laugh about it now but those long hours waiting for news were terrible. Minutes dragged. Hours rushed by. You try to steel yourself or find consolation. You think, “If he has to go let it be quick rather than his being hurt and hungry and freezing somewhere.” You try to force bravery and nobility on yourself - “it would be better for him to go in the dense beauty of the woods that he loved than in the cold sterility of a hospital ward.”
    Comfort was hard to come by. But somewhere in the reckoning of all that a realization dawned. This happened because he was who he was. His love of the beauty of his world was fierce and tenacious. He was true to the wildness in his heart.
    It was my sister Beth who discovered their return. She drove up from Pittsburgh to help with the search and stopped by Woodley’s house to find Dad making coffee while Woodley soaked in a hot bath. They had returned home on their own - unaware of the ruckus their disappearance caused.  Mid-morning two young hunters in a 4x4 came across them and pulled them out with a winch. They drove to Woodley’s house unaware of the massive search effort. They were embarrassed by the fuss.
    “My God,” Dad said, “they act like I’ve never spent a night in the woods before.”
    Days later, when he was rested and a little humbled by the rescue efforts, we talked. He talked about the still, quiet beauty of the frigid night. Stars as big as sparkling plums. Moonlight slipping round snow laden fir trees trailing sparkles across frosted branches. He spoke of the mysterious call of night birds. Of the fine fairy dust of snowflakes shimmering through the dark.
    “I’m sorry I caused so much trouble,” he told me “There’s no way I can repay everyone. But, I have to tell you one thing; I never thought at my age I’d get to spend another winter night in the woods. It was just so beautiful.”
    That is how I think of him now --- somewhere in the deep, verdant beauty of the country that he loved.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Great 2010 Vegetable Soup Challenge

So I made this New Year's “goal” to get back to eating low-carb, nutrient-dense food. I'm happier and healthier when I do that. Part of my plan includes making a big pot of vegetable soup once a week and keeping it handy for quick, hot, nourishing meals when I am hungry and busy and, therefore, inclined to grab something less healthy. The idea is this: the soups will be either broth or tomato based, not creamy, can have meat, poultry and/or fish, and should be loaded with vegetables. And I will experiment with different combinations and record the ones that are “keepers”.

So far I have three soups I'm sufficiently pleased with to put in the new cookbook. The first one I've been making for years. It is an Italian sausage soup which includes red peppers, onions, eggplant, and mushrooms. The second one is a delicious Cabbage and Green Bean Soup but last night's creation topped both of them.

I love Hot and Sour Soup but I don't really like tofu or bamboo shoots, I often pick them out of Chinese Hot and Sour Soup. So last night I decided to make a Hot and Sour Soup of my own. I call this Pennsylvania Dutch Hot and Sour Soup because it involves a few things that are standard in PA Dutch cooking --- cabbage, vinegar, pork and onions. So here's what I did:

Pennsylvania Dutch Hot and Sour Soup

  1. In my big Dutch oven I browned a pound of ground pork, breaking it up into fine pieces as it browned and draining out the fat as it formed.

  2. Cut a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs into small pieces and added them to the pork with 2 medium onions sliced in half lengthwise and then sliced fine. Let this cook until the chicken is becoming opaque.

  3. Take a head of cabbage and slice it in half. With a large, sharp knife cut fine slices of cabbage like you would for sauerkraut. Add 2-3 handfuls to the pot and stir cooking until the cabbage begins to be translucent. Add 12 oz. of sliced brown (Crimini) mushrooms.

  4. When the cabbage looks nearly done add two cans or one box of chicken broth and lots of pepper (about 1 tbsp.) Bring to a boil and add ¼ c. cider vinegar and 2 tsp salt.

  5. Mix 2 tbsp corn starch with ¼ c. water and pour carefully into the broth, cook to thicken. Beat 2 eggs with 2 tbsp cold water. When broth is thick and bubbling, drizzle the egg into it moving the mixture back and forth over the surface of the stew as you pour.

  6. Turn off heat and let sit 5 mins. for eggs to set.
When I ladled it into the bowl I floated a little bit of dark sesame oil on the surface and added some chopped, fresh cilantro. It was so delicious --- very chicken-y and smooth. I actually wound up adding a couple shakes of Mongolian Fire Oil because it wasn't quite hot enough for my tastes but that's a personal thing.

There is a big bowl of it in the fridge and I am looking forward to lunch. I may add a bit more vinegar and I also have a package of frozen pea pods I've thought about putting in. But, anyway, this is a very nutritious soup with lots of veggies and not a lot of carbs.

Last night I got out my copy of Brother Rick Curry's The Secrets of Jesuit Soup-making, one of my favorite inspirations for making soup. He has several recipes in there that look like they could be the start of something good. I'll keep you posted...

Thanks for reading.

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