Recipe Notebook from the Past

Laurium House
Vintage photo of unknown neighbors and what years later would become my home. The border is formed from wallpaper recovered within the kitchen walls!

Decades ago, my former husband and I bought a fixer-upper home that had been built around 1900 in a small town of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The house needed tons of work, and we basically lived upstairs while we began remodeling the first floor. When I say “we,” I mean mainly that he did the carpentry, and I cleaned up during and after the work was completed.

Since the kitchen was on the first floor and needed to be functional as soon as possible, that room was one of the priorities. While taking out the drawers in the kitchen for painting and new hardware, a small notebook was found jammed into the deep, dark depths of a cabinet. The booklet’s pages were somewhat discolored, and the brown, waxed cover bore the words “Memorandum Book.”

Within those lined pages, I discovered a delightful collection of handwritten recipes and helpful household hints. Some of them were even affixed with what must have been the names of the owner’s friends who had shared, as I recognized several of the last names of families living in that and the neighboring town. The penmanship style was similar to that of my mother or aunts who reliably sent letters to keep up on family news. I felt like I had struck gold.

Many of the recipes were desserts, although some were of casseroles or various types of vegetable and meat dishes. Two different versions of the Cornish meat pie regional specialty called the “pasty” were offered. Household hints ranged from a mixture that could be used to soften a hardened paintbrush to a home remedy for cough syrup.

When we said “goodbye” to that house some years later, the notebook found a new home in my paternal grandmother’s wooden recipe box and left with me.

I was recently encouraged to see that an online author acquaintance, Karen Musser Nortman, had put out a call for camping and/or Upper Peninsula recipes to accompany her current Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery, which is set in the area. I’m happy to say that the directions I submitted for pasties, “cry baby” cookies, and pasta sauce, all copied from that old notebook, now appear in the fiction book, Real Actors, Not People. What a fun way to recycle a few of those rescued recipes!

~Becky~

pasty
Pasty
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How Mrs. Wishy-Washy Saved the Day: a former teacher’s reflections

Mrs. Wishy-Washy

Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy
Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy on Halloween at her last school!

 

When I moved back to my home state of Michigan about fifteen years ago, I jumped at the chance to teach kindergarten at a Pre-K/K early learning center. That public school was in the Upper Peninsula and part of the state’s most northern K-12 school district. My recent teaching experiences were with upper elementary students, and it had been years since I worked in a preschool or completed a short stint in kindergarten during my student teaching. To say that I was nervous is an understatement!

Imagine my excitement when I discovered a dark cupboard full of colorful ‘big books’ the first day I visited my new classroom.  Many of the titles were written by the prolific New Zealand author, Joy Cowley, whose books I hadn’t previously encountered.  During that school year, I learned to love her books just as much as my students adored them!

All of Ms. Cowley’s books are great, but Mrs. Wishy-Washy was the most popular character, hands down. Here’s some background about her:

  • Who is Mrs. Wishy-Washy?  One of Joy Cowley’s most-loved characters
  • What is very important to her?  Cleanliness!
  • Where do she and Mr. Wishy-Washy live?  In a rural area in the state of Washington
  • When does she get grouchy?  When something gets in the way of her washing
  • Why do her animals sometimes look sad?  They are tired of being washed!

Besides tales of keeping other characters and her surroundings clean, other antics involve a farm fair, birthdays, gardening, baking, and appearing on TV. The students loved chiming in during ‘shared reading’ time and then reading on their own with the small-book versions of the matching titles.

white teddy bear with opened book photo

Ms. Cowley’s books are very conducive to a wide variety of literacy lessons:  beginning and ending sounds, blending, rhyming, story elements, sequencing, building words, spelling patterns, sight words…the list goes on and on!  Beyond that, many of them also lend themselves easily to tie-ins with other areas of the curriculum, such as science, math and social studies.

It’s no wonder that I again sought out Mrs. Wishy-Washy and friends some years later, when I found myself teaching young learners in another U.P. location. In relief, I found the school library housed many of her big books for the teachers to share, and that the smaller versions were already on the shelf in my classroom.

For those of you who write for kids, this author has a wonderful book titled Writing from the Heart that I’ve found to be a great resource for my own writing. If you’re teaching or have young children and haven’t met Mrs. Wishy-Washy and Joy Cowley’s other books, you may want to check them out. I’d love to hear about your favorite picture book characters OR about your ‘go-to’ resource books for writers!

barn-no attrib. required

What Draws Children to Certain Books?

flicka, ricka, and dicka

During much of my childhood, the public library in our little town was housed in a small area adjacent to the fire station. Each time I arrived at the library with my family, I worried that the fire alarm might sound during our visit. However, I remember a span of several years when I would hurry immediately to a certain shelf where the books by Maj Lindman were lined up, and I soon forgot all my worries.

This author/illustrator from Sweden produced several series of picture books from the 1920s through the 1960s, including those featuring the triplet boys, “Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr,” and also the set of titles built around triplet girls, “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.” I’m happy to say that I’ve collected one from each series, which are library editions published in 1960. I see that Albert Whitman & Company has reissued many of these books (some with paper dolls, no less!); but, for me, those actually printed during my childhood mean so much more.

While looking my copies over, recently, I considered what it was that I had liked so much about them as a child. Possibly I can put some of my discoveries to use when fashioning my own books for young readers. I came up with the following factors:

  • Settings – The country’s name, “Sweden,” is stated in two out of the three books that I own in these series. Even when not mentioned outright, the setting depicted in the book feels very different from my neighborhood that was in the midst of a small town in Michigan.
  • Freedom  – Since many of the stories take place on farms or in other rural areas, the children often seem quite free to roam as they please and have many adventures that often involve animals, as well.
  • Names – Beyond the triplets’ monikers, many of the other characters have names that were also unfamiliar and interesting to me.
  • Family structure – Until I was somewhat older and a nearby neighbor gave birth to triplets, I had never known any such families. (Imagine my surprise when that trio was made up of one boy and two girls!).
  • Visually appealing – The lovely, full-page illustrations are so pleasing to the eyes, and many of the editions use a somewhat enlarged and easy-to-see font.
  • Simple stories that often involve extended families – This serves as a vehicle to get the children away from their homes and broadens the story options.
  • Surprise endings or subtle lessons to be learned – As I remember, the resolutions seemed satisfying to me as a child.

All that being said, it appears that some of the books are rather long and run over 1200 words. My mother preferred to read shorter books for story time, especially since I also had an even younger brother. My father usually chose to tell us stories that he made up, on the rare evenings when he arrived home early enough from work. My older sister was always eager to read to me, though, for which I am forever grateful.

snipp, snapp, snurr

Although the type of stories that appeals to today’s children has evolved, I’m sure, I believe that there are still some nuggets of basic childhood yearnings to be found in the pages from our youth. I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and what it was that drew you to them!

 

 

 

 

Peter Mayle: A Life in Provence

provence

 

I was recently saddened to learn that one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, has died. The first book I ever bought by Mr. Mayle was Where Did I Come From?, which was purchased over 40 years ago in anticipation of telling my children about the facts of life. Decades later, when I was introduced to his travel memoir, A Year in Provence, I had no idea that this was even the same author. During the intervening years, he had published several other books for children and worked in advertising. He and his wife then took the plunge and gave up their lives in England to relocate in France.

The book was serialized for the BBC, and I came across the videos (yes, videos) at the library, while living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Filmed in Provence, the story was mesmerizing. I could relate in some small way to what he and his wife faced, having myself moved to various parts of the U.S. and adjusted to unfamiliar cultures. Those changes never required learning another language, however!

The views and vistas portrayed in the films were like nothing I have ever had access to on a daily basis, even in the most scenic areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes, North Carolina’s shores, Virginia’s mountains, or Texas Hill Country. Beyond the story’s familiar theme of moving to a different type of world, one can also find the more elusive theme of life never being too far along to try something new. This is such an important belief, and I think it resonates for many of us.

The mini-series wasn’t a critical success, evidently, although John Thaw’s portrayal of Peter Mayle was excellent. I loved it, though, and have watched it more times than I care to admit. Thanks to finding the series on the dusty bottom shelf at the library, I was led to the body of works by this wonderful author. I still remember the pleasure of cuddling up by the fireplace with a snowstorm raging outdoors and experiencing the warmth of the French countryside and the scent of lavender.

Peter Mayle wrote several successful sequels to that book, which are presented a bit more like collections of short stories. All the books contain humor, food, wine, weather, friendship, local culture and beautiful locales. How else would I ever have bumped into truffles (the mushroom-like fungi, not the chocolates), boules, the mistral, or pastis? This author wrote other enjoyable non-fiction, in addition, usually centered on various interesting aspects of French culture. To my delight, there were also his novels to devour, which portray many of the same characteristics as his memoirs, along with crimes solved, business deals conducted and wine produced. There’s some romance to be found, as well. A lovely movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is based on Mayle’s book, A Good Year.

With regret, I have to admit that I didn’t bring the entire collection of Mr. Mayle’s books with me when I moved. I did keep A Year in Provence, of course, and I especially value my ARC (advance reading copy/uncorrected proof) of A Good Year, with the plain blue cover. This format seems just that much closer to the author’s keyboard, somehow.

Try his first book, and if you love it, you’ll have a treasure trove to explore beyond that one. I’m extremely sorry that he’s gone, but surely this author knew that his writing had affected the lives of others, as evidenced by the book sales and fans, increased tourism to Provence, and readers who sought him out when visiting the region.

Merci, Monsieur Mayle!

Cataloguing a Life

 

sears 1957
1957

 

When I was a child, the thick Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was a staple in most homes. It contained sections for just about everything you could ever want to buy, it seemed, and offered another option for families who lived in more rural areas, like ours, with limited choices for shopping.

The large catalog came in handy for other things, too, like a “booster seat” for the tots who had outgrown their high chairs, but couldn’t quite reach the dinner table on their own. I remember a particular “snow day” from school when my sister and I had fun making “paper dolls” out of the previous season’s catalog. We carefully cut out the main figures and then found clothing on other pages that could be trimmed to fit. The joys of a simple childhood.

Years later, as a young mother with a child of my own, I saved “trading stamps,” which were given out by many of the grocery stores according to how much you spent. I pasted them into small booklets and watched the stack grow. Top Value was the main type I saved, and I spent considerable time perusing their mail order catalog to decide on the wonderful “premiums” that would be my goals. One of my older daughter’s first dolls, a sweet Kewpie in one-piece pajamas, came to live with us, thanks to Top Value stamps.

Penney's
1972

 

Around Thanksgiving, the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog was always a welcome sight in the mail. I spent hours poring over the pages to decide which gifts my daughters just couldn’t do without. This was also a great way to get ideas for grandmas and grandpas! Even though we had a few stores in our small town that carried toys, it seemed that the Penney’s catalog offered a much wider selection of brands, such as Playskool and Fisher Price. Playtime was better than ever with the likes of Happy Apple, Milk Wagon, and Chatter Phone. Our small house became a virtual village of Little People homes, schools, and farms. Pleasant memories.

Time marched on, and my children were nearly grown. By then, I’d finally earned my teacher certification and would have the opportunity to help other people’s youngsters learn and develop. I remember the excitement of securing my first teaching position and having the secretary hand me Lakeshore and ReallyGoodStuff catalogs to order materials for my new classroom, since we were located hours away from the nearest teacher supply store. It seemed too good to be true after all those years of study. I did, in fact, order some “really good stuff.”

Over the years, it seemed that I always ended up back in a remote area with very limited shopping. Fall typically brought the new catalogs from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Buying that new winter jacket at the END of the season when it was on sale was a much better plan, of course, but it was still great fun to look. The most welcomed catalogs in our part of Upper Michigan were the early spring arrivals from plant and flower companies like Gurney’s, Burpee, and Michigan Bulb. Those indicated that we WOULD, indeed, make it through another winter! I spent a great deal of time sketching ideas for our flower beds based on choices made for the local growing zone. Sometimes we bought through mail order, and other times we visited our local nursery. Either way, having those catalogs for handy visuals and information was priceless.

Life has a strange way of leading where we don’t expect. A few years ago, I found myself living on my own in a more populated area with every type of store you can imagine in close range. One rainy afternoon I was retrieving my umbrella from the floor on the passenger side of the car and noticed some papers under the seat. Pulling them out, I saw a grocery store flyer from my previous life, along with a Plow & Hearth catalog sporting my former husband’s name. I then remembered leaving for what ended up being our last road trip together. We had stopped for the mail on our way out, and I just shoved it under the seat to be forgotten. My only “hearth” nowadays is artificial, and I have no garden to dig in, much less “plow.” Quite the reminder about the changes in the fabric of my days.

The holidays have now passed for another year. Several weeks ago, I was surprised when I visited the bank of mailboxes in my apartment building lobby to find a Burpee spring catalog mixed in with the rest of my mail. It was actually addressed to me and not just to “current resident.” They found me! Guess the nice folks at Burpee don’t know, or care, that I currently have no need for plants and seeds, or any of the related supplies. I’m hanging onto it, though, and won’t admit just how many times I’ve peeked at its pages. Who knows what the future may bring.

chipmunk garden flowers

 

Cook Your Way to Luck in the New Year!

 

pickled-herring
Pickled Herring

With a few small changes to the previous year’s soup recipe, this is a repost from the end of last December…

I grew up in Michigan, with German heritage on each side of the family. Both of my grandmothers were good cooks and seemed to enjoy the process. I remember the wonderful aromas of “bread-baking day” at the home of my maternal grandma. My paternal grandmother occasionally offered foods that might not appeal to some children. Oyster stew, beef tongue and pickled herring come to mind. I liked two of those dishes, with the chewy beef tongue (no pun intended) being a definite “no.”

Although I enjoyed the stew with curly-edged oysters, I looked forward to herring the most. I remember a heavy crock so large that it barely fit into the refrigerator, where Grandma pickled her magic on those small, silvery fish. If memory serves me right, the end result was a light, creamy sauce, filled with thin rings of sliced onions and luscious, thick chunks of herring. Although I still have a few of her recipe cards tucked away in their hinged, wooden box, unfortunately, I don’t have that one. We ate it cold, on crackers, small rounds of pumpernickel bread, or on full-sized sandwiches.

My grandmother passed away just before Christmas when I was about ten. Every year after, my parents would buy a container of pickled herring at the market and we’d share it on New Year’s Eve. For years, I thought we just did that in memory of Grandma. Eventually, I learned that many people in Germany, along with other countries, often eat this delicacy at midnight as the year turns over, to help ensure a year of good luck and prosperity.

Another food for the holiday, black-eyed peas are displayed prominently on grocery store shelves these days. Although I’ve lived in North Carolina and now Texas, I had never tried this Southern staple that some people believe brings good fortune when eaten as the first meal of the New Year. The peas can be used in many different dishes, research showed, and I devised a recipe that works for me. The Texan variety is often seasoned with chili powder and hot sauce, but I came up with the following milder version in the form of a hearty soup:

Luck in a Soup Pot

soup-potOnion, shallot, scallion, leek, garlic, and celery (in any combination), sliced and sautéed in a deep pan.

Meat eaters, add bacon or ham (brown, or use pre-cooked).

Add approximately 4 cups of water and a bouillon cube (veggie or meat-flavored) to the pan. Adjust water for the amount of vegetables eventually used.

While that heats, chop a selection of greens: collard, mustard or turnip greens are traditionally Southern. I used what I had, which this year included cabbage.

Throw in the greens and any other soup vegetables you like. For color, I thinly sliced in a few carrots, and I also added several diced turnips. I seasoned with ground cumin and fenugreek, for my milder version. Bring it all back to a boil, then turn down to simmer until the veggies are tender.

I cooked my dried black-eyed peas ahead of time and added them into the soup pot near the very end to heat through. These “peas” are actually beans, a legume, and double as a protein and a vegetable, nutritionally. They’re also available fresh, canned and frozen.

If you like eggs, you might want to try a trick I learned a few years back with a clear-brothed spinach soup. Near the end of cooking, turn the heat back up and slide one egg at a time from a cup into the boiling mixture, spacing them out, a bit. They cook in place, much like a poached egg. Lift one out with a slotted spoon to check if they’re done.

Salt to taste. Serve with your favorite bread. Although cornbread may be most typical in the South, I plan to try it with pita, this year!

Wishing all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2018!

Windows Open!

open windows pixabay no attribution required

In the Midwest, the invigorating change of the seasons was often marked by melting or returning snows, reappearance or disappearance of greenery and flowers, along with changes in the patterns of wildlife visiting the yard. In Texas, transformations related to precipitation, flora and fauna are much more subtle to the non-scientific eye. For me, the main difference is whether or not I can comfortably open my windows. With a twenty degree drop in the temperature since yesterday, today is one of those marvelous days to open the windows wide.

This may sound like such a simple and even mundane act, but it’s an activity that many Texans, who are accustomed to such high temperatures, often seem to overlook. Indeed, many of the local apartment buildings, including my own, do not include window screens. That presents a choice to be made: leave the windows closed at all times, open them and risk unwanted flying visitors, or add some sort of protection. During my first autumn here, I remembered a type of free-standing window screen from childhood that opened like an accordion to fit various sized apertures. Where was my handy neighborhood hardware store when I needed it? Impatience had a hold on me, and ordering through the internet would have taken too long. Surprisingly, I found several at Wal-Mart, after sifting through a pile where many seemed to be damaged. I was on my way to opening my windows.

The next issue was how to make sure the new screens didn’t fall out onto those passing below, since their fit into the window opening isn’t exactly fool-proof. I found articles posted by individuals on the internet about just this topic, with suggestions that involved carpentry (not for me), Velcro, and removable adhesive putty. I went with a white version of the latter, since I was familiar with its easy and mess-free use from mounting things on my classroom walls as a former teacher. Just one little wad on each wooden end piece, while leaving my window closed a little farther than the height of the screens, and I secured them in place. Depending on the configuration of your windows, this may not be an air-tight fit, and you might still need to be on the lookout for small insects. I would certainly avoid these types of screens if I had a curious pet or young child.

Today’s cool breezes feel glorious. I can hear light traffic noises, occasional bird calls and distant voices. When opening the windows, we also put ourselves out there and share somewhat personal snippets of our lives, such as escaping cooking smells, voices, and the sounds of our favorite music, television program or current audio book.

The act of writing is a bit like opening windows. In sharing memoir and personal essays, we reveal our beliefs, feelings and memories to the world. Even in fiction, we raise the sashes that protect our personal experiences on which plots and characters are often based. We take a chance on rejection, disregard, or disagreement when opening ourselves up to the public, whether we share through a critique group, blog, website, self-publication, or if we publish in a traditional format. The potential rewards are many. Other writers and the public at large often embrace our written ideas and may offer helpful feedback, as well.

As writers, we should try to avoid being fearful of the results, take chances, and open our windows to the world beyond.