Gorilla, My Love: A Commentary

My featured image was painted by one of my best friends and favorite artists, Carole Geier. Her Ribbon Dancer comes later in the narrative, too. I’ve featured her art previously on my blog. It relates to this blog entry as it features a contemplative woman, which may describe me and the main character in the short story of which I will review.

Before I was a geographer and human scientist, I was an English major. It seemed a likely choice given my interest in literature. My love for music also drove my work in public radio. Like comparative analyses that we do in literature, I like to do the same with music.

Toni Cade Bambara, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s as a writer, film-maker, social activist, and college professor, wrote some fabulous short stories. I like that her writing used great rhythms in the narratives. Gorilla, My Love stands out for me, so I share this review that I wrote for Bambara’s narrative about Harlem through the eyes of the young “Hazel.” The story addresses many experiences of the young African American female, including her views of social injustices. This short story brilliantly illustrates a gifted young female, who, for many reasons, does not get her due respect from society.

My commentary is rather dense, so I will break it up with photos that may or may not connect to my narrative.

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Critics writing about Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “Gorilla, My Love” agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life, and teaches important lessons without becoming preachy.  Ruth Burks, Elliott Butler-Evans, Klaus Ensslen and Madhu Dubey point to no weaknesses in Bambara’s story.  Rather the weaknesses lie in their criticism because of detachment from Bambara’s characters’ culture, misuse of words, and faulty interpretation of the text. The critics, rightly, cite Bambara’s use of a young female as a brilliant tool to give the story the ability to address social injustices without heavy-handed didacticism (Dubey 19), but they show disconnectedness with the writer’s culture, for example, by not recognizing the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Each espouses strong opinions about a culture that perhaps none truly understands. The four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influence from the music of black Americans.  They don’t; however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  For instance, they use terms interchangeably, like jazz and Negro spiritual, when explaining the rhythm of Bambara’s story. The faulty criticism, however, does not lessen the strength of Bambara’s tale because the overall tone of the critics’ ideas stayed supportive.

     Burks, Butler-Evans, Ensslen and Dubey each cite Bambara’s use of Black urban vernacular as a successful way to give readers a realistic picture of a black child’s life in her neighborhood and community.  Elliott Butler-Evans describes Hazel’s speech patterns and delivery as a “restricted linguistic code of Black urban life” (94).  His narrow vision doesn’t consider that some of Hazel’s verbal expressions come from immature language development and have nothing to do with her ethnicity. For instance, she uses the term “scary” for scared. She contracts the demand, “let me” to “lemme.” She calls Big Brood’s Spaulding basketball or baseball glove a “Spaudeen” (Prescott 676).  She uses incorrect placement of a possessive in, “And I’m flingin’ the kid in front of me’s popcorn” (Prescott 677). While many might point to Hazel’s dialect as “the language of lazy or under-educated Americans,” that illustrates the dominant dialect in the United States.  For example, she uses contractions of words heard in everyday speech: cause for because, musta for must have, and most noticeable, she leaves the –ing sound off many words like grabbing, flinging, something and throwing. African-American vernacular does not claim exclusivity to these terms. Bambara mixes the black vernacular with the immature child’s linguistic skills to address social issues through the eyes of innocence.

     None of the critics’ main points appear to be original since they mostly agreed that Bambara’s strengths lie in her use of language.  No opinions strongly oppose each other.  The critics strayed when they stated their opinions without support from the text, cultural insights, or background.  Klaus Ensslen attributes to Hazel, supposedly between the ages of eight and 12, the power of profound insight.  For instance, Ensslen notes that Hazel’s term for Brandy’s friend, Thunderbuns, refers to “the borrowed or relegated thunder of her authority” (48).  This shows detachment to the culture of youth and to the mind of a precocious girl.  Hazel attributes to Brandy and Thunderbuns slothful, animal features to show inferiority to her own energetic, intelligent self. Hazel likes to pop empty potato chip bags so that “the matron come trottin down the aisle with her chunky self” (Prescott 676).  Later Hazel reminds the reader that Thunderbuns “do not play and do not smile” (Prescott 677).  Hazel does not possess the idea that the name, Thunderbuns, comes from the thunder of borrowed authority. In her youth, she attacks physical elements of the two adults with less-than-authoritative airs by condescending to them and by using names that describe their physical appearances.  This instance illustrates Hazel’s youthful intelligence.

     As if to say that a young, black girl could only get her intelligence from the streets, Dubey and Burks refer to Hazel as “streetwise.” The term streetwise usually refers to one with enhanced survival skills from living in the streets, which does not appear to be Bambara’s intention for her young character.  Hazel does not come from the streets.  She lives surrounded by a close-knit, loving family, which does not usually describe a child with street smarts.  Hazel reads maps, asserts herself to protect her loved-ones, shows self-confidence in her knowledge, and asks intelligent questions.  By reading maps, not a usual skill of a pre-pubescent child, she directs the pecan-gathering trip. She protects Big Brood in the park and protects the money from bullies by putting it in her shoe (Prescott 676). She asks for ticket reimbursement from the theater manager claiming false advertisement, which is good insight for a preteen. Her questions, apparently, threaten teachers since she often hears that they are out of line. Hazel expresses confidence in her consummate knowledge of things by proclaiming, “When in reality I am the smartest kid P.S. 186 ever had in its whole lifetime and you can ax anybody” (Prescott 678). Burks and Dubey wrongly assume that Hazel gains her intelligence from the streets, which further shows a misunderstanding of  her youth and the culture.   

     The four critics of record hit the mark with their highlighting Bambara’s strengths in language use.  Each takes a different approach, however.  Burks sees the story as having more anger, sadness and negative points. Her notion of “incongruity of language” (50) sheds a dark light on Hunca Bubba’s not waiting for Hazel to grow up to marry him.  The conflict of the story does not lie in Hazel’s misunderstanding with her uncle’s false marriage proposal.  It lay in her friction with the theater manager and the school. Hazel’s experiencing disappointment with a family who loves her does not need to be ranked with the injustices of false advertising to children and teachers who ignore a precocious child because she’s black. The family offers support to a disappointed child, but the schools and theater are less likely to show empathy. Perhaps Klaus Ensslen meant to say the same thing when he noted that Bambara used “family and friends as a social backdrop” (44). Incongruity of Language describes the conflict with those outside the family, and that language shows differences from the dominant culture, as Butler-Evans charges.  It seems more likely that Bambara wanted to emphasize conflict of blacks with the dominant culture rather than conflict within the family, which would be a less positive approach.

     Ensslen, Dubey and Butler-Evans look at Bambara’s short story with optimism toward Bambara’s linguistic genius. Butler-Evans and Dubey agree that Hazel’s vernacular paints her as a cultural insider and note that her speech is accessible even to those outside the culture.  It has reach outside the culture. How else would Bambara make her political statements?  Hazel’s voice lends credibility to the story with her view on social injustices.  Told by an older person, the same views would be construed as observations made by an under-educated, embittered and angry adult: “…grownups playin’ change-up and turnin’ you round every which way so bad. And don’t even say they sorry” (Prescott 680).  This supports Dubey’s claim that,  “Hazel’s voice functions as the sharpest linguistic weapon allowing Bambara to attack social issues without heavy-handed didacticism”(19). Ensslen called Bambara’s “didactic impulse” usable lessons in a committed life(41). This strength and the multi-layered use of language in Bambara’s short story stand out as the hallmark of “Gorilla, My Love,” according to Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, but the points missed with Hazel’s linguistic voice parallel the critics’ misunderstanding of the elements that make Bambara’s writing emulate jazz.

     Burks and Ensslen refer to the music of Black Americans when describing Bambara’s written cadences, but they appear to be unsure of the elements that make it jazz. In referring to the rhythm and musicality of Bambara’s story, Ensslen notes that her improvisational use of oral forms of expression owes much to the black music especially to the bebop of the postwar decades, as she herself acknowledged” (42).  He alludes to an interview in which she credits bebop jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for her literary voice.  Ensslen merely alludes to one of the strongest elements of Bambara’s story, perhaps, because he doesn’t fully understand how “Gorilla, My Love” truly parallels an improvisational jazz piece.  Consider Parker and Gillespie’s tune, “Night in Tunisia.”  The tune, played by their jazz quartet, begins with the string bass introducing the theme, which is then joined by Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, which takes the lead while being accompanied by Parker’s alto saxophone, the bass and drums (recording). The introduction in “Tunisia” parallels Hazel’s opening “That was the year Hunca Bubba changed his name.”  Both introduce a theme. The quartet broadens its theme within several bars and measures, so does Hazel name the characters to set the story’s stage.  Staying in the same musical key, Charlie Parker departs from the main theme to improvise his musical self-expression the same way Hazel uses an image in the photograph, one of many sub-themes, as a springboard to relay her story about an experience at the Washington Theater. In the jazz piece, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet overtakes a slight nod to the theme with a second improvisation. Gillespie’s improvisation parallels Hazel’s story within her story, Big Brood up on the cross, because it represents additional expression influenced by the original theme.  At the end of Gillespie’s ad-libbing, the remainder of the quartet rejoins him with the original theme like Hazel who brings her two stories, the theater and crucifixion, to an end with her yelling, “Shut is off.”  If Ensslen understood jazz improvisation, he may have been more successful in connecting Bambara’s strong sense of rhythm and pace with jazz improvisation.

     Ruth Burks makes a similar mistake by lumping all black music into one category to describe Bambara’s cadence.  Burks likens the tempo of Bambara’s story to Negro Spirituals, which is incorrect.  Burks declares that the plaintive voice of spirituals permeated “Gorilla, My Love.” Consider the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  The song opens with a slow-moving theme followed by a sorrowful response, “Comin’ for to carry me home.”  The song continues with call and response, short statement with repetitious reply, through to the end (Quick 184). Unlike jazz, no one leaves the theme to improvise another musical interlude or uses the theme as a launching pad to tell a story within the story.  Bambara’s “Gorilla, My Love” possesses very little elements of the Negro Spiritual.  In contrast to the spiritual, Gorilla moves quickly as several vignettes unfold within the story.  The energy is high since it’s told from a young, precocious girl’s point of view.  Quick beat and high energy hardly describe Negro spirituals with their slow cadences and, often, melancholy themes. Burks’ allusion to, “constant repetition” (49), connotes jazz improvisation, but she describes Bambara’s pace as Negro spiritual because of unfamiliarity with jazz and with Bambara’s influences.  The mistakes still don’t detract from the over all positive tone of the criticism, however.

            The four critics, Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, all in all, like Bambara’s writing.  They agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life while teaching life’s important lessons without proselytizing. They find no weaknesses, but their own lack of knowledge, regarding black culture, weakens their interpretation of the story through misuse of words.  The critics’ own stereotyping of the black culture becomes evident when they don’t recognize the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Butler-Evans confuses black linguistic patterns with the speech skills of a preteen. Ensslen gives Hazel’s coping mechanism of name calling an adult’s scrutiny by charging her with deeper thought than one her age may practice. Dubey and Burks miss the mark by equating Hazel’s intelligence to the survival skills of a child from the streets. Finally, the four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influences from the music of black Americans.  They don’t, however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  The intent of the critics appears supportive of Bambara’s message, but faulty interpretation of the text lessens their credibility.

So, find the short story by Bambera. then find Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” or one of Charlie Parker’s upbeat Jazz pieces, and experience the rhythms for yourself. I find it most pleasurable.

Thank you for reading.

Remembering MLK

Remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his work toward equity and justice, makes me think of family, so my featured image today is one of a memorable sisters’ trip. We visited the U.S. Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As I remember, the chapel, pictured behind us, closed for five years for restorations. We took this shot in 2017, so those repairs should be finished in another few years.

Today, I offer my reflection offered before a wreath laying ceremony, done virtually, at the bust on Dr. King on the campus of Kansas State University. Dr. King spoke at the university shortly before his untimely death at the hands of an assassin. I share this with you.

Please reflect with me.

As we prepare to lay wreaths at the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember his words, “The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

One can hardly acknowledge King’s work toward social Justice and equity without remembering his words of our past and thinking, “Why does this struggle continue today?”  Or asking, “Have we learned nothing?”

However, we see hope when, as Amanda Gorman put it, “a skinny little Black girl” steps to the Inauguration podium, and, as Dr. King did, tugs at the conscience of a Nation by telling us that, “the norms and notions of what Just Is, is not always Jus-tice!”

Let us reflect on those eloquent words while we remember Dr. King’s letters from the Birmingham Jail: Lodged, there for “parading without a permit.” For it was not legal for Black Folk to participate in public demonstrations, an exercise NOT for a people deemed “unworthy” or “un-deserving.”

He said, “Injustice is here in Birmingham, if the Negro man cannot exercise his first amendment rights in acts of peaceful assembly demonstrating for change with non-violence.” 

Dr. King noted, “They protested for the Negro brothers and sisters smothering in airtight cages of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”  They demonstrated for equity and justice. They were not insurrectionists, putting their feet on desks in hallowed halls and placing their knees upon the throat of democracy where, We. Could. No Longer. Breathe.

Dr. King emphasized, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must transcend our, so-called, race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective and tear down the walls of separation and hatred to seek common ground and to dissolve hierarchies.”

Further he encouraged for us to, “Rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the hills of creative protest!” “Humans are put on this earth to serve one another, and it must transcend class and privilege.” 

Dr. King possessed a deep hope that the world could be a better place for his children and for our children.

May Kansas State University as a community defined by pluralism find the common ground to stand together against darkness and hate to find light and love.

As we close our gathering today, I ask that you greet, even virtually, those around you with your own word or action that communicate peace. “Every effort we make to connect is meaningful.”

So be it…

Thank you for reading my blog. Enjoy this piece of art painted by my talented friend, Carole Geier.

Winter Comfort Meals

I think that my hibiscus has made more than one appearance in my featured image, but I can’t help sharing pictures with you. I took this photo last week when it had 11 blossoms on its branches. I keep it pruned into a sort of topiary. It appeared to be content when it was on the patio. Now it seems to have what it needs in the living room.

In the Northern Hemisphere around the 39th parallel in the Midwest, the throes of a rather mild winter offer us opportunities to be outside. With more activity, comes the desire for comfort foods. I am glad to share a few simple recipes for some lovely meals.

Some time in December, I made mashed potatoes with some leftover whipping cream from holiday desserts. It made all the difference in the world! I boiled some russet potatoes. I save the starchy and salty water for making bread. I will tell that in another post.

Once I drain the potatoes, I pour the cream over the potatoes and put the lid back on so that the cream is heated. I take three to five minutes for this step. Then I remove the lid and mash the potatoes with a little added pepper and a little salt to taste. When you use the whipping cream, you do not need to add butter, as with many mashed potatoes recipes. It goes well with meat loaf.

After years of watching my mother make meat loaf, I borrowed some of her techniques. She used oatmeal in place of crackers, as many people use. Here’s my recipe:

1 (45g) pound ground beef

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons (19.5g) Oat flour

Fresh onion, minced (to taste)

Seasoned salt (your choice) and pepper

Worschestishire sauce (to taste)

Ketchup and a small amount of mustard

Bake in a hot oven. I use a two-piece meatloaf pan that has holes in it to drain away the grease into another part of the pan. This makes the meat loaf nice and solid, not to mention less greasy. During the last 10 – 15 minutes of baking, I pour a ketchup/brown sugar mixture, which bakes into a tasty glaze.

I served the meat loaf and mashed potatoes with my giardiniera pickle mix from the garden last summer.

I do love reading cook books and magazines. I cannot say that I follow the directions of the recipes exactly, but I do love the suggestions. Then I cook it how I want or with the ingredients that I do have. For example, I found this recipe for pasta with peas and mint. I did not have mint, so I used one of my 40 frozen jars of pesto from the garden last summer. Basil and mint are in the same family, so that is what I had. Also, I did not have the 2 cups of parmesan as the recipe called for. Instead, I melted graded pepper jack cheese in the simmering cream as I awaited the pasta (shells) to finish cooking. When the shells reached the al dente stage, I tossed the frozen peas in the water (before I saved two ladles full for the creaming of the dish) for one minute. Then I drained the shells and peas into the creamy, cheesy, béchamel. The final result reminded me of the chicken alfredo that the grandchildren had prepared for us.

Perhaps I present a backward way of giving you this recipe. I did sauté onions, garlic, and bacon bits in oil before adding the cream and the cheese. This gave it a base to begin the melt. Anyway, it went well with a crisp chardonnay. My carbon steel wok works the best for preparing sauces. The sweet, from the peas, and the creamy savory of this meal satisfied our appetites while serving as a warm comfort food.

Finally, another one of our comfort meals centers on rice. We love different types of fried rice for breakfast. It tends to be a great way to use rice from other meals. We have a rice cooker, which keeps the rice at just the right temperature for two to three days. It never lasts that long since we love rice.

For this particular breakfast, I had a few mushrooms and part of a red pepper and one grilled chicken thigh that needed to be used. I like to begin by sautéing, in sesame oil, what ever vegetables and protein that I will use for the rice. Then I add at least two eggs and cook until almost finished. Then I add the rice. After everything is thoroughly blended, I add a little soy sauce and some chili sauce. Blend again. I sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on before I serve it.

It went quite well with whipped instant coffee and milk.

We make breakfast special, because it sets the tone of the day. Since the weather is cold, and we cannot sit on the front patio, we sit at our dining room table situated by a large picture window. Today, we had 14 species of wonderful birds at the feeders that I counted within a 15-minute time span.

Take care. Be well, and thank you for reading.

Soups and Stews

My featured image, today, comes from the loving hands of my friend, Lynn, who celebrates camping life with us. We found delightful winter camping, sans tents and camper trailers, at Osage Hills State Park in Oklahoma in cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. The ginger camper and its subsequent decorating entertained us one evening.

With cold weather comes body-warming, emotion-comforting, and energy-giving soups and stews. My seasonally renewed love for soup began with my sister’s Zuppa Toscana! This recipe floats all over the web. I think Sis’s came from one of those. Her recipe consisted of: Italian sausage, 5-7 strips of bacon, 5 medium russet potatoes, Kale, heavy whipping cream, water, one half large onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Fry sausage and bacon. Set cream aside, but add all the rest of the ingredients, and cook well. I added fresh rosemary and a few shakes of Kitchen Pepper (recipe found in one of my previous blogs). Add the whipping cream just before you serve the soup. Be sure to heat it through once you add the cream. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine, like Chardonnay. The good cook stands to the right with our 90 year old mother in the middle.

Just before Thanksgiving, we traveled to see Granddaughter in her choral concert. Grandmother P invited us to dinner for a heart-warming soup. Like me, she favors pinto beans and other legumes in her soups. I like that she used pinto beans and peas together with potatoes and carrots. It proved to be a most lovely meal. She served it with piping hot dinner rolls and juice.

Several years ago, when she was six years old, we took our granddaughter to Alaska. We taught her how to harvest mussels from Resurrection Bay during low tide. She fell in love with the taste. Now, six years later, she continues to love mussels. She visited recently, and I always ask the Grands to pick their meals. She chose mussels. As luck would have it, the grocery store did not have any. She did find clams, so I prepared them. I really don’t know if she actually likes the mollusks, of if she likes the way I prepare them. As you may have guessed, I sauté garlic in butter and olive oil. Then I add white wine to simmer for a few minutes. I toss in the cleaned mussels, or in this case, clams. I let them steam for a bit with the lid on the pot. After the shells open, we know that they are finished. She likes to eat them served from the pot. We like to serve them with buttered linguine and crusty bread. One can add a salad, but do not forget to consume with a crisp white wine, like a sauvignon blanc. We see, here, the six year old with her mussels and the 12 year old with her clams. I put this in since the clams or mussels do swim in a luxurious soup.

Finally, I leave you with my all time favorite soup or stew, depending on whether it has a thin broth or a thick gravy. In the case of Thanksgiving 2020, instead of Turkey and all the trimmings, we had our Indigenous/Native traditional “Three Sisters,” corn, beans, and squash. The most important thing to remember about cooking pinto beans: they do not need soaking when you have new crop beans. Producers harvest pinto beans in the fall, usually October. They stay “fresh” for about a year. Then they begin to harden and become darker. Those you buy in the grocery store are darker, because they are older than a year. I prefer “new crop” beans, and they usually cook in two hours or less time, without soaking. We use dried sweet corn in our bean soups/stews. Our grandmas taught us to grow our corn and dry it on the cob. Once dry, the kernels fall off with little coaxing. The dried kernels can be stored in jars on the shelf. Now, to add corn to the stew/soup, it does work best to soak the kernels first, usually one hour in hot water. Drain the water before adding to the soup. To prepare the soup or stew, cook the beans and corn in well-salted water, which becomes your broth. As the beans cook and hydrate in the broth, prepare your meat: lamb, beef or pork. I prefer lamb. My Grandmothers used mutton. I like to use green chili as my seasoning. I do not add chili, garlic or onions until the beans are cooked. Adding an acidic vegetable too early does not allow the beans to hydrate properly, and you can have hard beans. Use salt and pepper to taste.

You might be saying, “Where’s the third sister?” You can choose to put the squash in the soup or stew, but I like to have it served on the side. I take chopped apples, chopped naval orange, raisins, and walnuts. I mix them in brown sugar, butter, Chinese five-spice, and brandy (or bourbon, or Fireball). Mix the fruit mixture and put it inside the seed cavities of acorn squashes that have been split and seeded. Save the seeds for later to bake or plant. It tastes wonderful with a hot piece of crusty bread just taken from the oven.

Thank you for reading.

Time with the Grands

The featured image is the hand of our lovely granddaughter, age 12. She is quite artistic, and she has lovely hands.

The U.S. Holidays seem to center on the fall and winter months. That means we look for ways to gather, at a distance, and partake in each other’s light. I do not have to tell you that the pandemic challenges of 2020 did change the way we interact with one another. While we continue to weep for those who lost their battles with the virus, we must cherish one another and do all we can to stay safe and care for those we love.

We spent some lovely time with three of our four grandchildren. Number three grandson went on a beach trip, so this is what we received from him.

With the other three spending one week of their holiday break from school, and also bringing a friend, we had three teens and one pre-teen in our house for a week. The tradition of their spending the holiday break has lasted a decade. We keep thinking that the soon-to-be 18 year old and the soon-to-be 17 year old “boys” will no longer want to do this, but we have been fortunate.

The week-long visit tends to focus on a very long, at least five evenings, game of Monopoly. Grandson number two took all our properties on the fifth day. Also, to give the kids some responsibilities, we asked them to pick on evening to prepare a menu and meal. This blog celebrates our evenings of meal choices and preparations by the grands plus one.

First night:

Granddaughter number one chose sushi for her evening. Her menu: Sushi (California rolls) and shrimp tempura. Grandpa wanted Inari (bean curd pockets) sushi, so we helped with that part. I did not get pictures of the tempura, but it was delicious. We have an excellent Asian market where we live, so we purchased tempura batter mix. The other items were purchased there, too. Here she is preparing a roll in which she added sushi-prepared rice, imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, carrots. She found it hard to keep up with the demand of the sushi lovers.

Second night:

This day happened to be our wedding anniversary, so Grandson number two wanted his meal to be special. His girlfriend came along for the week and bunked with our granddaughter. They chose chicken broccoli alfredo from a recipe that, said girlfriend, brought along. This grandson likes my homemade bread, so he asked me to bake some that day. I did. These kitchen helpers cooked chicken thighs, and then cut the meat away from the bones and sauteed the meat with onions and garlic. Then they added broccoli and cooked a little while longer. Once the penne pasta finished cooking to al dente, they added it to the meat. The final ingredient, as I remember it, called for whipping cream and parmesan cheese to be added and stirred until creamy. Here they are.

I had my serving of chicken broccoli alfredo with a crisp chardonnay from the Brix cellars in Upstate New York. After dinner, we played more Monopoly.

Third night:

Grandson number two chose steak, baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus for this night of preparation. The university, which employs me, has a meats department from which I purchase beef and, on occasion, lamb, when they have it. I wanted to assure good cuts of meat for this evening’s meal. Grandson #1, first marinaded the steaks with Daddy Hinkle’s marinade, that he learned from his father. His grilled steaks turned out fork tender. He prepared the asparagus in foil packets on the grill. It tasted buttery with a hint of lemon, and the potatoes came out with creamy flesh. I served the children sparkling grape juice, and I had my serving with a dark red cabernet.

We had s’mores for dessert prepared over an indoor grill:

Besides eating their prepared meals, the week consisted on shopping and playing Monopoly. The game began on Sunday the 27th and ended on New Year’s Eve. Grandson #2 won, and we each took our losses with great consternation. Over that past ten years of playing this game with them, I have never won. I do not possess that killer instinct when it comes to games and acquiring properties. In this game, I managed to have one full set of properties on which I put houses. Here’s what the game looked like before #2 wiped out the last three players before me.

Alas, it became time to store the holiday decorations, which consisted of a colored light on the hibiscus and a small Precious Moments Nativity with a few of my edits.

Luckily, the hibiscus, which I moved in from the front patio, served as a decorative tree with its four to seven blossoms per day. We had a wonderful time, though we greatly missed grandson #3. He did love his trip to the beaches of Mexico, however.

Thank you for reading.

Foods: Dickens’ Great Expectations

My featured image surly points to my curiosity in many subjects. I agree with Horace Mann, “Every addition to knowledge is an addition to human power!” I took this picture of the limestone etching on the front of a building. I think the drive to add to our knowledge begins with curiosity. So, while my blog posts may appear random, they do reflect my curiosity. Today is one of those random interests of mine.

The Foods in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectation

As an English and Geography major, I tend toward the writings of Dickens, Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Chaim Potok, when I’m reading great writers. For some reason, the foods in their books intrigued me. Once I invited a friend to dine with us. She replied, “I don’t know. What are you reading?” She remembered that I like to cook the foods in the books I read. For this entry, I offer something I wrote about foods in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Charles Dickens describes the meal scenes in Great Expectations in sensual and appealing ways. Whether Pip and Joe Gargery sit down to light meal, called tea, consisting of bread, butter and a mug of tea or relatives gather around Mrs. Joe’s Christmas table to consume a spread of meats, sweet and savory pies, each food stuff carries with it custom and innovation. Food served in Pip’s’ era, 1860s Britain, possessed different qualities specific to each region of England. The story takes place in Kent, London, and Rochester and near the tributaries of the Thames River (Hunt vii), and each meal or food scene invites the reader into Pip’s world with regional flavors and traditional presentations.

The first meal encountered in Great Expectations finds the main character, Pip, and his gentle brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, a blacksmith, in the kitchen watching Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, preparing their afternoon tea (Dickens 9). According to Roz Denny, afternoon tea, “a very British meal,” started as a fashion begun by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840.  Since the Duchess became hungry between lunch, served at midday, and dinner, served around 8:00 p.m., she demanded a small meal around 4:00 p.m.  Tea for the rich usually consisted of brewed tea, plates of sliced bread and butter; cucumber, egg or tomato sandwiches; buttered scones with jam; and pieces of sponge cake or fruitcake (31).  Similar to Denny’s description, but more like the afternoon tea of the poor, Pip and Joe enjoy only bread and butter with their brewed tea.  The description of the bread served in the Gargery household carries tradition of its own as well.

Pip observes Mrs. Joe, known for her foul temper, serving his and Joe’s afternoon tea.  He notes that her trenchant way of cutting his and Joe’s bread-and-butter never varies:

First, with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast against her impregnable bib. Then she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were making a plaster, using both sides of the knife with a slapping dexterity. (Dickens 9)

Visualizing Mrs. Joe’s use of her bib to steady the bread while she cuts it, as opposed to using a cutting board, calls to mind images of a rather large loaf.  In his book, The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson explains many varieties of bread loaf shapes of the nineteenth century.  Mrs. Gargery’s sounds like the Coburg or the cob.  Davidson describes the cob as a popular English crusty loaf made from plain white dough.  Round in shape, since bakers or “housewives” did not bake bread in a pan, the cob has a plain, uncut (no slashes like French or sourdough loaves) crust.  Cob loaves were formerly small and round and baked with coarse flour.  The name Coburg had just come into use during Mrs. Joe’s time possibly introduced by a German baker who settled in London.  The loaves became larger and more substantial when baked by women in the country.  A loaf of bread served by a country housewife, like Mrs. Joe Gargery, measured about 12 to 14 inches in diameter and four to six inches in height (Davidson 98).  Hence Mrs. Joe’s ability, or necessity, of jamming the loaf into her bib, and, Pip says,  “sawing a very thick round off the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Joe got one, and I the other” (Dickens 9).  In Dickens’ day, more professional bread makers worked to provide bread to those living in the city.  Country women baked their own bread. Bread’s importance lay in its energy value for food to hard working lower and middle class people because it provided protein, iron, nicotinic acid and vitamin B1 (Toussaint-Samat 237). It consisted of baked dough made of wheat flour, water, and yeast.  After combining the three components, the baker mixes then kneads the dough to incorporate air into the dough.  The flour ferments producing bubbles of carbonic gas, which raise the dough. In the heat of the oven, the bread increases in volume, and forms a firm crust once the evaporation of the water in the dough stops (Toussaint-Samat 239).  

Partaking of bread-and-butter appears in a few other scenes of Great Expectations.  The best scene involving bread and butter shows Pip, well after settling in London, at the home of John Wemmick.  Wemmick’s fiancée, Miss Skiffins, engages in a Sunday ritual with the Aged Parent to prepare tea. Pip states that the “Aged P” prepared a haystack of buttered toast, which left them “warm and greasy after it” (Dickens 327). The scene represents Pip in a happy time, but skipping back before the move to London, shortly after Pip learns of his call to visit the wealthy recluse, Miss Havisham, he first heads to Uncle Pumblechook’s living quarters in the High Street of the market town.  The next morning, before going to Miss Havisham’s, Pip wakes up to a breakfast consisting of a mug of tea (with watered-down milk) and haunch of bread-and-butter, which he refers to as a penitent’s meal because of the butter’s scarcity in relation to the amount of bread presented.  Soon after breakfast, Pip meets Miss Havisham and her ward, Estella, who soon becomes his life-long love.  After playing cards with Estella and being the victim of her many insults centered on his coarseness, Pip’s day at Satis House ends with his receiving a small meal of bread, cold meat (meat’s first appearance) and a mug of beer, which he eats while he sits alone in the yard like a “dog in disgrace” (Dickens 66). Having meat during the week proves Miss Havisham’s wealth (Tannahill 207).  On the last Saturday before embarking to London and beginning his journey of becoming a “gentleman,” one of Pip’s final suppers at Joe Gargery’s forge consists of bread-and-cheese and beer (Dickens 159).  Beer, a cereal beverage, contains protein, and people with limited incomes favored it as a drink in Dickens’ era because of its low cost and nutritious value (Tannahill 330). Cheese also served the same purpose in terms of being healthful and relatively inexpensive (Tannahill 208).

In the thirteenth-century, Britons relied on sheep to supply their dairy products.  Three hundred years later, cows became the main source for what the English called, white meats, claiming cow’s milk to be more versatile than sheep’s (Tannahill 208).  In the nineteenth-century, Britain’s cheeses continued to come from cow’s milk.  Professional cheese makers or country housewives, like Mrs. Joe, produced hard cheeses made in large cylinder shapes, called truckles, from which triangular wedges were cut (Denny 27). The cheese ripening process requires bacteria, yeasts, and molds.  The rind of the cheese holds much of the bacteria necessary for aging.  Unlike modern consumers of cheese, the British of Pip’s time ate the whole cheese, rind and all (Davidson 160).  Recall Pip’s stealing the rind of cheese for the shackled convict out on the marshes near the churchyard (Dickens 12).   Abel Magwitch ate the cheese rind just as the rotund Uncle Pumblechook greedily ate his Christmas dinner at Gargery’s home, only more thankfully (Dickens 13).

The grandest meal in Great Expectations certainly must be the Christmas dinner early in Pip’s story.  Pip illustrates Mrs. Joe’s preparation of the house for Christmas dinner:

Mrs. Joe put clean white curtains up, and tacked a new flowered-flounce across the wide chimney to replace the old one, and uncovered the little state parlor across the passage, which was never uncovered at any other time, but passes the rest of the year in a cool haze of silver paper, which even extended to the four little white crockery poodles in the mantelshelf. (Dickens 220)

In a chapter entitled, “A Victorian Christmas,” the editors of The Pageantry of Christmas recall Christmas in England during the reign of Queen Victoria as a “time stirred up by a great hustle and bustle for ordinary folks preparing a bountiful holiday” (74).  The serious eating began about 1:00 p.m. with an elaborate tea at 5 o’clock (Fillmore 76).  The meal laid out on the table by Mrs. Joe differs little from that described in Pageantry only Pip’s sister adds a bit more: “leg of pickled pork with greens, a pair of roast stuffed fowls, a handsome mince pie, a beautiful, round, compact pork pie, and the pudding”.  Mrs. Joe put the pudding on to boil the day before, and Pip had to stir it on Christmas Eve “with a copper-stick, from seven to eight by the Dutch clock” (Dickens 12).  Mrs. Joe presents each course with a touch of pomp and circumstance beginning with the leg of pickled pork and the greens (Dickens 22).

     Mrs. Joe’s leg of pickled pork comes from a long tradition of preserving meat, an essential process because of a lack of refrigeration to keep it bacteria free. Preservation by salt and/or brine curing (pickling) yields the best results (Tannahill 210).  TheWorld Atlas of Food notes that the British had not acquired an art of resourceful pork cooking, so pickling seemed to work best in the nineteenth century (Hale 82). Pip’s sister displays her wealth and motivation with a no-expenses-spared dinner for her honored guests because pickling meat requires extra money and time.  A scarcity of salt and spices increases the meat’s cost.  Spices such as peppercorns and cloves add extra expense to the already expensive meat, so wives have to be mindful not to waste precious salt and spices on poor cuts of meat such as tough, stringy mutton, hence the saying, “That sheep’s not worth his salt” (Tannahill 212).  The extra time involved in pickling meat includes pounding and smashing the large, lumpy salt, (Tannahill 210) and days of planning, because the curing process in pickling takes two to five days, and the spiced brine must be changed daily to prevent spoilage (Kerr 25).  Mrs. Joe serves the pickled pork and greens as the first course along with the roast stuffed fowl (Dickens 22).

     In the Literary Gourmet, Linda Wolfe names roast goose as the favorite fowl served on the Victorian Christmas table (151).  The eating of goose on ritual occasions or seasonal feast days comes to Western Europe directly from the Celts and Germanic peoples (Toussaint-Samat 337).  Mrs. Joe, likely, offers her family and guests a goose that she first rubbed with butter, flour and salt then browned in hot grease to seal the juices in before roasting (Wolfe 152).  Recall Pip and Joe warming themselves at the chimney corner in the kitchen (Dickens 7).  The chimney in a wooden country house, like the Gargery’s, rose above the roof from the kitchen where women of the era cooked their meals.  Families gathered in the kitchen for its warmth as well.  Mrs. Joe probably roasted her Christmas fowl before a brisk fire without the use a pan, but rather something like a large skewer, and she had to baste the bird often before its own juices began to flow (Wolfe 152). Like other women in her region of southeast England, around Kent, Mrs. Joe roasted the fowl with stuffing inside made of the goose’s liver, breadcrumbs, onions, sage, butter, egg yolk, salt and pepper (Wolfe 153). After Mrs. Joe’s meat courses, her diners still have more than half of the whole meal left to consume, and next comes the mince pie.

 Pip stole mincemeat from a jar in the pantry (Dickens 15).  Mrs. Joe had already made the “handsome mince pie”, so she did not notice any missing (Dickens 22).  Mincemeat has its origins in thirteenth century England when the aristocracy kept large amounts of dried fruits in their larders because varying climate made the storage of fresh fruit impossible.  In addition to the variety it added, dried fruits served to disguise meat past its prime. Mrs. Joe likely served it because of tradition, and almost everybody in England continues to eat mince pies at Christmas, presently (Hale 86).  The World Atlas of Food cites “Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management of 1856-1861” as having the original mincemeat recipe, which bakers continue to use today.  It includes raisins, currants, lean rump steak, beef suet, sugar, candied citron peel, lemon peel, orange peel, nutmeg, apples and brandy all mixed and stored in glass jars to mature for about two weeks (87). The Kerr Home Canning and Freezing book written more than a century later offers the same basic recipe as well (25). However, Kerr promotes the use of a pressure canner, 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes. I have found this much too long as the juices tend to flow out of the jars, so I have opted to freezing my annual mince made from my Native American Grandmother’s recipe.  Mincemeat’s function, besides serving as a sweet treat, lay in its relatively long shelf life, essential in not having adequate refrigeration (Davidson 507).  At Pip’s Christmas dinner, the mince pie came just before the “savory pork pie”.

Minced meat continues to be one of my all time favorite luxuries. Take a look at one of my blog entries two years ago with history and a recipe found here: https://peopleandcultures.blog/2018/08/09/history-of-mince-pie-and-a-recipe/

Before Mrs. Joe serves her next to the last item on the menu, she coyly teases her guests, Mr. Wopsle and the Hubbles, with the portly Uncle Pumblechook’s gift of a pork pie.  Lucky for Pip, the teasing delays his sister’s discovery of the missing pie.  Just as Mrs. Joe is about to discover the missing pie, soldiers, looking for the blacksmith to construct leg irons, interrupt the grand dinner.  Thankful at the interruption, Pip thinks of the convict out on the marshes hungrily consuming the pie (Dickens 30).  The British pork pie originates from a medieval tradition, but the practice has changed little in modern times.  Fresh pork seasoned with salt, pepper and lots of sage goes into a hot watercrust pastry case made with boiling salted water, flour and lard heavily kneaded for strength.  The pie, baked in a three-pint basin, measures about eight inches in diameter and four inches high.  When the pie finishes baking, the baker pours rich stock from the trimmings through a hole with a funnel.  The stock congeals when the pie cools.  Pip’s convict enjoys the pork pie cold just as anyone in Britain would eat it (Davidson 624).  Magwitch does exonerate Pip’s thievery, as he is being led to the prison ship, by claiming to have stolen the “wittles” himself. Magwitch offers this gesture to honor Pip for his generosity.  Sadly, for Mrs. Joe, the soldiers’ interruption did overshadow her presentation of the final item on the feast menu: the pudding.

The Pageantry of Christmas illustrates a scene of “Plump Molly Dumpling,” as the epitome of a chubby Victorian housewife plunging her Christmas pudding, cradled in a large white bag, into boiling water (75).  Like Molly Dumpling, Mrs. Joe uses a pudding cloth to hold the pudding while it cooks in a boiling liquor bath.  Her predecessors had to use the stomach or entrails of a sheep or pig to hold the pudding while it cooked, similar to Scottish Haggis, which is not sweet.  The guts were only available at the time of the animal’s slaughter, which did not necessarily coincide with Christmas (Wilson 283). The Christmas pudding recipe dates back hundreds of years before Mrs. Joe put hers on the table.  The recipe varies from region to region with base ingredients that do not change: breadcrumbs, sugar, rich dried fruits, nuts, spices and suet (Hale 87).  Pudding sounds similar to mincemeat without the meat but with flour. Roz Denny notes that most cooks begin their puddings six weeks before Christmas for thorough mingling of the ingredients’ flavors (34).  Mrs. Joe may have rushed her pudding only beginning it the day before (Dickens 12), but Dickens relates the scene with lively beauty.

The author describes the meals in Great Expectations in ways that conjure visions of happiness and grief, and they invite questions about their origins.  Pip and Joe’s humble teas, served by the bitter Mrs. Joe, date back twenty years before their time as a remedy to quell hunger between the long hours of lunch and dinner. Menu items of the teas reflect the household incomes and range from only tea-and-bread to elaborate menus including sweet cakes, scones, butter, jam, and sandwiches. Pip’s teas mostly consist of bread-and-butter with a mug of tea, but when he has tea at Miss Havisham’s, he receives cold meat, a sign of the recluse’s wealth. The shape of Mrs. Joe’s bread loaf, the Coburg, hints at her place of regional residence, a southeast England countryside, and cheese and dairy products provide vital protein, as a white meat, to Pip’s diet even though he must consume his milk watered-down.  The scene with the most tradition, pomp and circumstance shows Mrs. Joe presenting a Christmas meal to friends and family. The meal demonstrates a bountiful household graced with a clever and hardworking mistress. 

Necessity-becomes-tradition describes each item on the Christmas menu. Pickling pork gives it a longer shelf life at the same time imparting flavor to an otherwise mild meat. Sweet dried fruits disguise spoiling meat while providing tastes to satisfy the sweet tooth, and the fruity mass of the Christmas pudding gives everyone at the table something to anticipate.  Pip’s world can be beautiful at times thanks to the delicious meal scenes. 

Next time you read a book, if it features food, try creating the recipe. It may be fun. Also, I have a works cited list if you’re curious. Thank you for reading.

Making Meal Times Special

While this story focuses on making meal times special, notice my featured image. I walk in the cemetery in the mornings before work. The cemetery in my town stands out among cemeteries because there are no restrictions on headstone sizes, as far as I know. The cemetery’s rolling topography with expansive spaces supports many species of flora and fauna! Only a block from my home, the burial space offers inviting views of nature, and it links to a network of trails that lead to the creek. I especially love the stone picnic tables on the trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the U.S. depression of the 1930s.

Meals: While walking in nature remains one way to make our day special, we look to our meals as a way to find memorable moments. Given my penchant for cooking, I’ve added pictures to mark such memorable moments. There have been times when we have finished a well-prepared meal only for me to remember that I failed to snap a shot. But then, not all gustation should be chronicled for posterity!

We like to go camping, and we don’t live far from that opportunity. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and we used to spend many weekends enjoying trees, streams, lakes, and rivers, not to mention a wide variety of four-legged and winged creatures. That’s where my love for camping grew. I like to cook outdoors, too! My husband likes to eat, so we make a fine pair!

Breakfast helps us to begin our day with special contemplation. Something as simple as my homemade granola. Preparing granola is a significant event that takes the better part of a Saturday since I make about 25 pounds (11.34kg) at a time, and I pack it into freezer-safe container. That much granola lasts six to eight months. Pictured above is a bowl of granola with whole milk and a steaming cup of coffee. Eating it from my favorite restaurant ware, Shenango China, makes it extra special. The “vitrified china” from New York and Pennsylvania will have to be a story for another time.

We love granola, and here is a general recipe for my bi-annual mix. Instead of baking the granola in the oven, I use an electric roaster, those used for preparing a turkey!

38 Cups (5.9kg) of rolled oats

3 pounds (1360.78g) mixed raw nuts (I like almonds, filberts, walnuts, pecans, and cashews) Hemp seeds work well, too.

3 pounds of raisins or dried fruit of your choice

3 teaspoons Kitchen pepper (seasoned salt of the 18th century!) This recipe can be found in a previous blog.

4 Tablespoons crushed cardamom, 4 Tablespoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 cup coconut oil (not fractionated) and 3/4 cup of sunflower oil

2 cups honey (use your local honey where possible)

2 cups of sorghum or cane molasses and 1 half cup of pure maple syrup

Heat liquids on the medium heat enough to blend.

Have oats, spices, fruits, nuts, and seasonings set in roaster. Pour the hot oil and sweeteners over the dry ingredients, fruits and nuts. If you bake this in the oven, it will take several batches.

This process takes about three hours. You will know it’s finished when the ingredients begin to clump a bit together.

Store in freezer containers. Keep what you use out on the counter or in a cupboard. Enjoy with yogurt, on ice cream, as a crunchy addition to cooked oatmeal. Also, you can heat the granola with milk to make a creamy hot meal with nuts and fruit.

Breakfast Ice Cream

I call it “breakfast ice cream” because it originally began as a smoothie. My ingredients tend to produce a consistency too thick to be a smoothie. It’s more of a soft serve ice cream, which can be a quite special treat no matter what time of day you eat it. It requires a food processor as opposed to a regular blender since it has frozen fruit. Here’s the lucious outcome:

2 frozen bananas (I cut them into pieces before freezing them) This is a good way to use bananas that are about to over ripen.

1 cup frozen blueberries (about 190g)

1 cup plain yogurt (285g) or a similar non dairy substitute

1 serving of any type of protein powder

2 TBS (18g) Badia Trilogy health seed mix (Flax, chia, hemp)

1/4 cup water (59g) or equivalent in ice

Blend in your food processor (I use a Ninja, which is one-thousand watts). It takes a bit, and you have to scrape it down once in a while, but the end product is about four, 1 cup servings. It’s thick, creamy, sweet, and smooth. Be creative and enjoy!

Eggs Benedict

I love eggs benedict. There are some days I don’t want to consume bread, so I made these with crispy hash browns. I had just eaten a salmon eggs benedict in a restaurant in Kansas City, so I thought I’d try this with Canadian bacon like traditional benedict. I grated potatoes, steamed them in oil with the lid on so that they would cook while the bottom would brown. When the potatoes looked transparent, I flipped them to brown on the other side. This time without the lid. I used the lid to steam them initially.

The Hollandaise sauce came from the Betty Crocker cookbook, and it’s the best-ever. We enjoyed it with espresso, and sometimes we add steamed milk for a luscious cappuccino.

These are just a few of the things I’ve been creating lately. I hope you like it, and I thank you for reading my blog.

Remembering Riki

Yes. My featured image is fuzzy, to say the least, but I want to share the story of Riki.  She’s the loved one in the middle of her friends who are kissing her, which epitomizes the life of our daughter, Riki. We lost her nearly five years ago, and Sunday, September 27, 2020 would have been her 39th birthday.

While, not a day goes by that she’s not on our minds, I take the day of her birth to remember. Often, those remembrances come by her presence in photos and artwork, or by the sound of her voice emanating out of her, now, 12 year old daughter. Her sons exhibit her soul when they demonstrate empathy for others and by their senses of humor, which make Riki ever-present in our minds and hearts.

Our son, Stevie, often shows Riki’s expressions when he’s run out of patience for “stupid” people, and his language certainly echoes shades of his sister. The more expletives, the more he sounds like her. If you can raise your children to be best friends, do it. Riki and Stevie were always best friends, and I know he talks to her daily. I see the same closeness in Riki’s three children. The eldest anticipates his high school graduation and takes college classes now! Our granddaughter made known her worries about big brother “leaving us” to live on his own during college and eventually off to work. The middle child demonstrates his responsibility by having a job and maintaining a car.  The three interact with great love, and, like most siblings, have their disagreements, but come back to each other at the end of the day.  I love when siblings depend on each other emotionally. That makes for life-long friends when siblings feel that deep connection to one another.

Interesting thing, for me, about Riki and Stevie is that they, were, and are great in the kitchen. Riki specialized in homemade noodles, breads, and creative dishes. She could look in our refrigerator at the random things, and come up with a great meal.

Stevie, also, specializes in breads, meat dishes, and the creative process in the kitchen.  He’s a building contractor, and I think he approaches baking and cooking much the same way he meets the challenges of building a house, a deck, or any structure he’s hired to build.  In the end, he creates some memorable feasts, such as meat pies, hamburgers encased in their own buns, and “steak au frites!”

Celebrating the life of a child who has passed from this life, which no parent should ever have to do, surely means we learn to live with the loss, and we find ways to live with our “new normal.” We celebrate our son, Stevie, and continue to find daily joys in our grandchildren.  Stevie has a son, who we love dearly for his spirit, his no-nonsense approach to life, and his laugh.  Riki’s children give us joy as we watch them mature into wonderful young adults. 

Riki taught us how to love life, how to gather friends around us (even if at a distance as per the challenges of living during a pandemic), how to appreciate the little things, and how to find the greatest joy in music and nature.

We learn that it’s okay to grieve.  It is not a weakness to grieve the loss of a loved one.  No amount of “faith in a higher power” should lessen our ability to grieve a loss.  Yes. That faith may be part of how one survives the loss and navigates the daily sense of loss, but by no means should we work to replace ignore those feelings.  If you suffer a loss, such as that of a child, sibling, parent, etc. grieve as you see fit.  Face it head on, which is much healthier, emotionally and physically, than stuffing or ignoring the emotions after the loss of a loved one.  Feel it. Face it directly.  Yes. Painful though it is, we come out in a better place. Grief does not go away by ignoring it.

In all this, I have not found great books on grief.  I would dream of writing a book on the subject one day.  I do know one thing.  Self-care and grace for one self is key to its survival.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Eating Together – At a Distance

I took the “featured image” as “The Guys” began an evening fishing trip on Chautauqua Lake in Western New York, not far from Lake Erie. My memories of floating in that lake on my back with my head submerged just enough to shut out the sounds of the world with only my breathing noticeable, is one of my most healing experiences – ever. This photo, taken with my cell phone, illustrates the colors of peace and serenity at a time that I needed it most, having lost our daughter six months earlier that year, 2016.

Here we live in 2020 during a pandemic. We continue to stay connected with friends and family through calls, virtual meetings, and occasional visits to the back deck. I admit, my usual practice was to invite large gatherings for food, stories, drinks, music, and such. I love to be around people!

Sorry about the random pictures! I’m trying to get used to the “new” format of WordPress! Not sure I like it.

As we navigate the new way of being in community, with others, the onus falls on each of us to practice safe distances. Rather than abandon my social life, I continue to look for ways to engage with my friends, families, and others by opting for outdoor interactions with no more than two to three people. We can be at a safe distance on my back deck or my front patio that way.

Serving food can be a challenge. How can I assure the visitors to my deck for patio that I am practicing safe hygiene practices in my kitchen? I wash my hands, a lot!, and wear a mask when preparing food to share. Also, I use plates fresh from the dishwasher! Instead of my usual cloth napkins, I use paper napkins.

I went to a birthday party last June. My friend staged the party on her concrete driveway. Each of us provided our own chairs, dinner services, drink, snacks, and glasses or cups. The friend provided cakes from a professional caterer. It was a great time for people who were feeling isolated. Look at the cakes.

I thought the distancing for the party demonstrated a rather safe way to interact. There were face masks worn, though the picture shows none. Notice the chalk markings to indicate six feet!

In the meantime, we must be creative to keep our connections with one another without exposing ourselves and others to the COVID-19 virus.

So, what have I cooked lately?

Experimenting in the kitchen, especially during this pandemic, gives me great pleasure. Sure, we like to eat, and we have to find ways to make our meals fun, even if we change places where we take our meal. We like the patio in the front of the house for breakfast. We sit with our hibiscus with our morning eggs and coffee (or whatever else we’re having that morning!). In the evening, we sit on the back deck. We enjoy watching the birds, listening to the sounds of the evening: birds chirping, cicadas making that familiar crackling known as crepitation, and dogs barking. Interestingly, if you listen closely, you hear the hum of car engines, children emoting, and leaves rustling. What a better way to take a meal.

The experiments in the kitchen still surprise me. Nine times out of 10, they are tasty and fun. We have a great Thai food restaurant. My favorite dish is basil fried rice. It’s almost too hot with Thai chilies, even when I order “mild.” I have made the rice at home. The one thing that I’ve not done well is topping the fried rice with the egg that’s been “poached” in about three inches of hot oil. The egg white comes out crispy crunchy while the yolk stays runny and creamy!

Based on my tasting and listing what I think are the ingredients:

1 big bunch of fresh basil, one quarter of an onion, two cloves fresh garlic, one or two Thai or other hot chilies, one-half red pepper, all sauteed in sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the vegetables have properly sweated, add a bit of fish sauce and frozen green beans or peas and carrots. Now add the rice and fry some more with added soy sauce. Top it with a poached egg or fry it in butter, over-easy. The extra flavor from the restaurant comes from “poaching” (actually deep fat frying) the egg in hot oil. The egg should only be in the hot, deep oil less than one minute. The egg pictured here was steamed in butter, and I let it get a little crispy on the bottom.

We enjoyed it very much.

Thank you for reading me.

Garden Gifts and Kitchen Pepper

Since this is a story about gardens, I thought it best to set a featured image taken by my most talented cousin, MLG. She said I could use the picture. I write about basil a lot, so it’s only fitting that this praying mantis sits atop a lush stalk of basil while staring down a humming bird on the feeder. I think she should win a photography contest for this shot!

While I have my own garden, the wonderful thing about having friends and colleagues who have green thumbs is that we don’t grow the same vegetables. Thus, one gets a great variety of veggies and fruits when other gardeners share their bounties.

My colleague, BH, possesses a green thumb that allows peaches that we continue to enjoy thanks to last year’s crop. We are down to the last two frozen bags, and he tells me that a late frost nipped the trees buds last Spring. Not to fear, though, because the Japanese eggplant, chilies, and tomatoes are “going crazy!”

For the eggplant Parmesan, I cooked the tomatoes in a bit of olive oil until I could remove the peelings and mash the pulp to cook down into a paste. I cooked the tomatoes with onions, garlic, and two fat hands full of fresh basil leaves. My own garden is crazy with two pots of basil, and three plants in the ground. I planted extra basil to make sure, at least, one survived. Who knew all of the plants would survive, indeed, thrive! Back to the marinara sauce for the eggplant Parmesan. Once the sauce thickened, I put two big dollops of pesto! I have 40 half pints of different varieties of pesto in the freezer, and I keep one jar in the refrigerator to use randomly in food preparations. Sadly, I did not take a picture of the marinara sauce. I prepared half of the 16 ounce (450g) bag of penne pasta. I tossed the cook pasta in half of the marinara I had prepared with 10 tomatoes, half an onion, three cloves of garlic, and kitchen pepper (more on that later). Oh, I tossed the sliced Japanese eggplant in egg then in corn flour (ground yellow corn), and fried them in butter!

For our next eggplant meal, I fried sliced eggplant with fresh corn I had taken off the cob. It reminded me of the same side dish I make with fresh corn fried with yellow squash. This may have seemed like an odd meal, but I made fried green tomatoes. I have three tomatoes plant that have big green tomatoes. I’m not sure if they’re not getting enough sun, because they don’t ripen. That means I am pickling a lot of green tomatoes, too. Here are the fried green tomatoes. They were delicious.

Kitchen Pepper

I read about “Kitchen Pepper” when I was doing research on recipes and the cooking or baking of other enthusiasts. I found this on another WordPress website called, “Savoring the Past, ” which noted this from “A Lady’s Assistant” by Charlotte Mason, 1777. It was suggested that Kitchen Pepper developed any recipe into a savory dish. I have now added Kitchen Pepper to potato salad, grilled salmon, marinara sauce, and in a chocolate cake. The ingredients, individually, will surprise you, and you may not think they should be in such recipes. I can tell you that any where you would put seasoned salt, kitchen pepper can add greater depth in a flavor profile. Here’s the recipe:

Kitchen Pepper

One ounce (28.3g) powdered ginger

one half ounce (16.1g) of each:

black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (all should be ground well)

Add 6 ounces (170g) salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

Mix all of the ingredients well, and store in a tightly-sealed jar, preferably with a shaker fitting.

My friends Paula and Phil visited, and brought vegetables from their garden. We ate fresh tomatoes, and I will make more marinara sauce tomorrow. Phil presented me with a bag of very nice pickling cucumbers. I had eaten some “spicy maple bourbon pickles” that someone had brought to a party, so I thought I’d try making some of those, since I had some peppers in my garden and BH had presented me with some from his garden. I went to my trusty “Ball Canning Book” for the proper ratios of the ingredients to which I added one modification. I replaced the white sugar with pure maple syrup, but I did not add bourbon. Maybe next time. My ingredients for my version of spicy maple pickles:

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup canning salt

1 pint vinegar

1 pint water

1 tablespoon pickling spice

For each jar, I place sprigs of fennel, a sprig of rosemary, two chilies, 1 clove of garlic, and sliced cucumbers and sliced green tomatoes. I heat brine to boiling and pour over the vegetables for five minutes, and then I pour the brine back into the pan to bring to boil. Then I pour the boiling brine on the vegetables, seal, and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath “canner.” If I want a crispier pickle, I seal the jars after I pour in the boiling brine. I cool them on the counter and place in the refrigerator. The recommended 15 minutes boiling water bath often yields a slightly less firm pickle. The pickles are delicious with your eggs in the morning or with slices of cheese as an appetizer. They are great with sandwiches, too. Be creative.

For my parting shot, I offer a picture of me with my wonderful hibiscus plant, which yields 3-5 blooms per day. We eat our breakfast on the front patio with the plant every morning since we acquired “her” two months ago.

Thank you for reading my blog.