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Friday, October 21, 2016

And a tall glass of cold milk

I mentioned last time our neighbor, Anne, who came over to sit with mom a couple of evenings a week. Mostly they just drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while they talked about work and other neighbors. They would say the same things over and over sometimes. I often wondered if they were so bored sitting there that they didn't even listen to themselves, much less the other one.
Anyway, every once in a while they would make a batch of No Bake Cookies. We loved those growing up. I don't know when the recipe ever came about, but when they made them, it was like they had just invented sunshine that you could eat.

Anne would bring over her own cookie sheets, so she could take her part of the batch home. Line with aluminum foil, she would lay them on top of the freezer, and she and mom would sit and drink at least one cup of coffee and smoke a couple of cigarettes before they would get started. Mom had a huge pot that they would make them in and when it was time to add the oatmeal, one or two of us would be allowed to stir for a minute. Mom would lay her cookie sheets out and line them with foil. We wanted to help with those too, anything to speed up this agonizingly slow process.

Start out with 1 stick of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of milk and 6 tablespoons of cocoa. Bring that to a boil, stirring constantly to blend. Boil 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter. Stir until well blended. Then add oatmeal. I never measure the oatmeal. I just keep adding and stirring until it seems right. You want it firm enough to hold onto the spoon.

They would scoop the cookies out onto the pans and then line the pans up again across the top of the huge chest freezer in the kitchen. Then they would clean up and sit down for more coffee and a few more smokes. This was another clear-cut case of child abuse. How were we supposed to wait for these darn things to harden? They took forever. You could bake cookies and let them cool enough to eat in the time it took these to "set up" as mom would say. "Can we have one?" "They're not set up yet, no." We knew mom could be mean, but this was just beyond comprehension. And, Anne was in on the cruelty. But then again, she had a girl and no boys, so maybe she didn't really like us all that much and the torture was gratifying for her.

Drop them by spoonfuls onto a lined pan and let them "set up"! I still cannot wait that long for them, so I usually put them in the fridge to speed it up. One of the best parts of making them now is that no one else gets to lick the spoon but me!

When we could finally have one, we would shove a whole cookie in our mouth and reach for another. All that chocolate and peanut butter and dense chewy oats called for a tall glass of cold milk! That is, if my oldest brother, Ricky, hadn't drunk it all by then. Mom would buy one gallon of milk a week and when it was gone, it was gone. You would always find him with the jug in the air, guzzling it straight. When we got older, he used to buy his own that the rest of us could not touch.

I don't think we ever had these cookies at Christmas or any special occasion. These were simply cookies to have, for no reason at all. Every now and then we would have them at school, on our food tray. Say what you will about school cafeteria food, but those were the best too.

Even today, I don't make No Bake Cookies for Christmas. I make them because we want some. I make them to take on a trip. I make them because I am bored and hungry. I don't really have to have a reason. This evening, I needed to write this post and I decided I needed pictures  for it. I also need a tall glass of cold milk.
Sometimes you never really grow up.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Food for thoughts

This past week the weather has turned cooler. We've opened the windows and aired out the house. At night we throw an extra blanket on as the temperature drops into the 40's and 50's. The leaves are just beginning to change, and you instantly begin thinking about comfort foods. There is a meaning in that term. It's comforting because the tastes and smells remind us of better days when someone took care of us by feeding our bellies and our souls. I decided to make today a comfort food day.

This morning, after my requisite double capacity coffee cup was filled, I fixed a late breakfast. I guess you could call it brunch since it filled us up for most of the day. I decided to make a batch of biscuits from scratch. I cook quite a bit, as you know by now, so you would think that I could turn out a pan of biscuits in a minute. Biscuits are not something that I grew up on, though. Mom probably popped open a can or two, but I don't ever remember her making biscuits from scratch. I don't even remember my grandmother doing it. I know that may take a couple of punches out of my southern boy card, but that's the truth.

I did make a batch a couple of times myself growing up. I remember the first time I made them one of our neighbors was over. Anne came over a couple of nights a week to sit with mom, smoke a few dozen cigarettes and drink coffee. She was a good cook, but a nosey neighbor. I may have to write more about her sometime! A few of you probably know her, or are related to her, so I will be nice. She and mom were close and she took care of me many times. I will always thank her for that. Anyway, she tried my biscuits and told me what I did right and what I needed to do the next time. Cold Crisco was essential or your biscuits were just greasy.

But this morning I decided to use a little different method, one that I had seen online. I took a stick of frozen butter and grated it on the old knuckle buster. Then I put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes to harden back up. Once I had my flour ready, I mixed the two and finished with the pastry cutter. The two have to come together to look like meal. Then I added in my buttermilk and stirred it until it formed a ball. On a floured surface I rolled it out, folded it once and repeated three more times. Then I just grabbed a glass to cut the biscuits. I don't have a cutter, so a glass works pretty well. Into the oven at 450* they go until they are starting to brown on top. I take them out and immediately rub the tops with butter and they turn nice and golden. I was pretty happy with this batch. It wasn't much harder than popping a can.

Mom's rolling pin adds all the comfort I need.

While they were in the oven I fried up a huge slice of city ham and a few eggs. A little apple pie jelly that I made last year tasted so good on those biscuits. There's enough ham and biscuits left to have a quick breakfast for the next couple of mornings. The comfort in making these this morning for me was using mom's rolling pin. It is a simple wooden roller with faded red handles. It seemed so big when I was little, but it's not that big today. However, it does a great job and I plan on passing it down to someone in the family one day. The only thing I recall mom using it for was to roll out sugar cookies each year. I think that's another Tale. The title will have to be The Camel Had No Legs. My brothers will appreciate that one.

This evening I made a pot of Chicken and Dumplins. I know it's dumplings, but I can't help it. Again, not something that I grew up on, but I've learned to make. I've made all kinds of dumplins, from drop to rolled to dill to butter. I've settled on plain rolled. I make my own stock by beginning with boiling a whole chicken. A chicken for every pot I think is the way to go for the country and the way to go for the best pot of chicken and dumplins you've ever had. I cover it with water, salt it just a bit and let it boil for an hour or more. I check it and when the legs are about to fall off, it is done. I pull it out of the water, which is now stock, very carefully and put it in a roasting pan. I want to have room to work with it as I begin to pull it apart. I let it cool a bit and get the vegetables ready. I usually throw in what carrots I have and a little bit of onion. If I have any celery, I will put a little in, but not much. Then I pull off the skin and pull the meat off the bone. When I am done I have a cutting board full of chicken, white and dark meat, to put back in when the vegetables are done.

I set that aside and begin the dumplins. They are pretty much like biscuits, but of course, are rolled out very thin. I get water up to a boil again, add the chicken back in and cut the dough into tiny squares. I generously dust them with flour before putting them in the pot. As they begin to puff up, the flour helps thicken the stock. If it's not thickening, I add a little flour to some milk and add it to the pot.

Now over the years, I've made some really good pots of chicken and dumplins and some have not turned out so good. The first time I made a pot for Mick, I had a pan full of cubed chicken from a meal that we had that day at work. There was so much chicken left over that a couple of us divided it. I was excited to be able to make a pot so quickly when I got home. All I had to do was open some chicken stock and make the dumplins. I made a huge pot too. That time I made big ole drop dumplins, about the size of a baseball when the puffed up. I put a dumplin on a plate for each of us, split it open and poured lots of the chicken and gravy over them. Mick took a bite and didn't say a word. I sat down and took my first bite and could not swallow it. It was horrible, but he was being so nice. I didn't realize that the chicken had been smoked for chicken bbq sandwiches that we had at work. Mick tried to eat a little more, but I threw it all out. It was disgusting. He has since been a bit more vocal about what I fix, and it took a while before I tried chicken and dumplins again. He ate a bowl full this evening and there's enough for a couple of more meals.

Probably the ultimate comfort food.

The comfort in chicken and dumplins has to be that it was one of the first one pot meals that I fixed after buying my first house. It was that old 1855 farmhouse and it just seemed that this was something I needed to learn to make in my own kitchen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A old Tale of New Tails

I know it's been a while since I have posted. Things here at home have been a bit busy, and it's all my fault. Nearly a month ago, I was at work early one morning. As I passed by some stairs, next to our offices, I heard a familiar sound. This was just after daybreak. I stopped to listen closely, but all I could hear were birds chirping. I began to move on when I heard it again. So I stop once again. I look around, but I can't find anything and I have no idea where the sound is coming from. Someone walks by and gives me a puzzled look. I don't know what their problem was. Had they never seen anyone searching for a kitten before? When they walked away I heard it again. I knew it was not all in my head, so I decided to begin meowing to see if it meowed back. That seemed pretty logical to me. "Meowwwww" meeeee "Meeeoowwwwwwwww" meeeee "MEEEEOOOOWWWWW" Got it!

Sure enough, beneath the stairs and between some pots that our gardener stores there, was the tiniest gray stripped kitten I had ever seen. I carried it out and into the sunlight. It was shivering and crying. It held close to me, I think to keep warm. Another co-worker walked by, saw what I had and turned around. He came back a minute later with a little dish of milk. I put the kitten down at the milk and it had no idea what to do, so I dipped it's face in the bowl. After it's initial shock, it took to drinking milk from a bowl pretty quickly. Now, what?

I carried it back to my office and found a big box. I put the kitten and what milk was left in the box and then headed to my car to find some towels or something. Sure enough, I had a couple of old towels in the back and made it a bed. I was at work so early because we were having a festival and I was setting up. It was Heritage Day. I had lots to do, and taking care of another life was not on my agenda.

I figured I better see if it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes it is so hard to tell when they are so small. He is not so small. Now I figure I have to call him something besides the kitten. I think Heri is a suitable name.  I found him on Heritage Day. Done. Wait, I can't name him. If I do, I'll have to keep him. Another co-worker walks in and sees the kitten. She asks me what its name is. I say "Heri". Oh no.

I leave him in the box in my office and get back to work. I have a good 12 hours ahead of me. I keep checking on him throughout the day and so does everyone else. I ask everyone I see if they would like a kitten, but as cute as he was, there were no takers. As the day wears on and I check on him more and more, he begins to recognize me. He actually calms down when he sees me. I am done for. I had been telling Mick all day what was going on and he kept telling me to find him a good home. I always do as instructed.

I get home with him about 7pm that evening, just dead on my feet. Mick takes charge of the little guy and within five minutes, he is asleep in his lap. We discuss taking a vacation day to take him to the vet and get him checked out. I set up a kennel for him, make a litter box and he has a secure place to sleep for the night, away from the dogs. The other cats were probably more concerned about his invasion than the dogs were.

That look says it all. I've gone too far. Oh well, Welcome Home Heri Potter.

After I eat and get cleaned up, we begin talking about his name. Mick does not care for Heri very much. He thinks that is a weird name for a cat. I told him of my logic, being that it was Heri-tage day. He's not convinced. So he begins searching lists of cats names. I don't like anything he's calling out. Then he says "Potter". "You did find him at the Pottery House at work." I ask, how about "Heri Potter"? Mick laughs. He says the name out loud in his best British accent, which was the worst you've ever heard. I thought it was perfect. I found him on Heritage Day, in the space beneath the stairs, next to the Potter's House.

They vet thought he was about 5-6 weeks old, and he said he was in perfect health. He was such a sweet kitten a couple of weeks ago. He is now in his terrible two months stage. I don't know if any of us will survive. He has absolutely no fear but is full of wanderlust. He is amazing.

He looks so peaceful. Terror awakens soon.

Curiosity fuels this thing.

We already had three cats and four dogs. We believe in adopting from shelters or keeping animals out of shelters. Both of us grew up with animals and we will always have something running around the house.

Our vet growing up was Doc Truban. His office I think was part of his house. You drove past a couple of big bushes and down the driveway, to a small parking space in the front. Up the stairs and through the front door. Inside there was a dutch-door window straight ahead, waiting room to the left and exam room to the right. You checked in and went to one of the chairs in the waiting room. The walls were paneled, lamps lit the room and there were just a few things on the walls.

That exam room saw every dog and cat we ever had. Injuries from accidents. Puppies that could not be born. Our last dog that suffered from kidney failure. They all went there. Many years later, one of his sons took over the office and built a new building a little ways down the road.

Doc was not just our vet. He was also our State Senator for about 20 years, I think. But in the office, he was just Doc Truban. He was a good gentle vet, that was practical about the care needed. I've probably used vets over the years that I have liked more, but I don't know that I have ever trusted one more than Doc. Everybody knew him and everybody trusted him to care for their animals.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mom's old New Cook Book

Most people have a favorite recipe, or several, that they consider an old family specialty. Our mom was not one of those moms that passed on old family recipes. I think I've mentioned that she didn't cook much, but she was a good cook. She really didn't have the time much to cook. She worked full time and raised the four of us. We had standard meals that we would eat each week. For example, we always knew that Monday was spaghetti night. I think that's how you get through sometimes. A routine is a means of survival. We didn't mind. Once, dad fixed dinner on a Monday night and it was not spaghetti. He heard about it from all of us for years after that.

Sunday dinner was usually the most adventurous meal of the week. I know there were roasts and chicken dishes, but I don't remember them. What I do remember was her meatloaf. She only had one cookbook to speak of, and I have it today. I had a collection of cookbooks at one time, but it has always been the jewel in the cookbook crown. A Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book with a red and white plaid cover, printed in 1968. She didn't use it much but recall the Fluffy White Icing page being dog-eared. Her meatloaf was not from a cookbook or recipe, though. It was simply from memory. She never even wrote it down, so we didn't have something to pass on.

Worn and stained from 49 years of use. It's still mom's New Cook Book.

She always used the biggest blue and white pyrex mixing bowl from her set. When we emptied out the house, that was one of the few things that I wanted to keep, but we couldn't find it anywhere. At some point, dad must have given it away or let someone borrow the set. There were four nesting mixing bowls in blue and white, with a pattern of farmers and their wives on them. I have a set today that I found at an antique store. It's missing one of the bowls, but I don't mind. I was driving by an antique store a few months after my dad had passed, and out of the blue, I decided to stop. I had passed it many times, but I had never been in it. I walked in and the first booth I entered had the set of bowls. I picked them up and took them straight to the counter. They were asking $50 for the set of 3. I didn't have any money, but I didn't squabble about the price. Things were tight. I didn't care. I wanted the bowls, so I pulled out a credit card. I got home and cleaned them up. Set them on the counter and just looked at them. I was excited to have a set just like moms. Not even an hour later I got a phone call from the executor of dad's estate. He called me to let me know that he and my brothers had talked and they were going to go ahead and disperse part of the inheritance. I paid the credit card off when the bill came in. Mom made sure I got a set of mixing bowls. The rest of the estate was settled after the house was sold and the appropriate time had passed. The first thing I made in my new old set of bowls was mom's meatloaf.

Each bowl has the farmers with the wheat pattern and they alternate blue and white backgrounds as they nest down. These may not be mom's, but they feel like it and that's good enough for memories.

I learned how to make it from just watching her, which is the best way to pass a recipe down. She never measured anything for it. She just knew how much to put in. That's when you know something is going to be good. It's tried and true. Sometimes she would let me mix it all up. You had to get your hands in there and squish the meat, ketchup, oats, and eggs through your fingers. It would be so cold that you had to keep the hot water running so you could warm your hands up and then dig back in for another minute. She told me a few times about our great grandmother's (on dad's side) meatloaf. Mom was never sure how she did it, or even why she did it, but she had an egg in the center of her meatloaf. She would cut it and there was a hardboiled egg in the middle. Thanks to the internet and Food Network, I've been able to look that up. It's something that has been done for a very long time, and it's making a comeback. You make your meatloaf and put half in the bottom of the pan. Then you line two to four hard boiled eggs up and cover them with the remaining amount of meatloaf. Then you bake it. Most of what I read said it was a German or Jewish recipe. We are neither that I know of, but I am sure great grandmaw Edge learned that somewhere. Mom never tried it, but I am tempted to sometime.

I made a meatloaf tonight for Mick to take to his parents tomorrow. His mom needs to stay off her feet for a few days, so we wanted to make sure she didn't try to get in the kitchen to cook, and we want to make sure they have something to last them several days. I was talking to her a few weeks ago and she was telling me how she makes her meatloaf. I make mine the exact same way. I follow what my mom did, but I started adding a little bbq sauce a couple of years back, which is what she does as well. Neither of them followed a recipe. Their hands just know.

Here is my mom's recipe for Meatloaf:
2-3 pounds of ground beef
1/2 onion chopped
Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
a splash of milk

Combine all ingredients and mix well with your hands. Sometimes she would use a small can of tomato paste instead of ketchup. Transfer to a baking dish and pat the meatloaf down into a solid loaf. Cover and bake at 325 degrees until done. Uncover and top with more ketchup and return to the oven for 5 minutes longer to brown.
Like I said, I add a little bbq sauce to mine now. The amounts of ketchup, mustard, oats, and such are just to feel. I honestly have no idea how much I put in. When it looks and feels right, I know it.

Get all of your ingredients together and just mix it until it holds together and feels right. Too soft and it will not hold up, too dry and it will fall apart. I need to make this with some of my nieces and nephews. I don't know if my brothers make mom's meatloaf, so we need to pass on the recipe.

Now there's a loaf!

Just top it off with ketchup and back in the oven for 5 minutes more!

When I make it with the hard-boiled eggs in the middle, I'll put up a quick post. I don't remember much about my great-grandparents, so I need to connect a little to them. I just know they came down from Pennsylvania and settled in Buckhannon, WV for the rest of their lives and raised a family. And, they ate meatloaf with a hard boiled egg in it, or so I was told.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Waterpark is closed...For no more renovations

I know it's been a few weeks since I last posted, but it has been just a little crazy around the house. I told you about the beginnings of our bathroom renovations, and I think we were into day number four. Well, we went well into week number three before it was all done. There were no major issues, thankfully. But, our contractor was not as familiar with the work as we had hoped he would be.

The plumbers were in and out and did a great job. Next, the shower walls went up. By next, I mean five days later. There was some prep work to be done, in all fairness, such as drywall. I remember my dad helping with many renovations through the church when we were growing up and he got to help with the drywall installation, mudding, and sanding. If you can avoid it, do so at all costs. I don't think all the dust has settled yet.

We decided to help speed things up (and hopefully recover some on the budget) by doing some of the painting ourselves, so we made sure to get that done overnight for them. When the tile went down, the toilet came up, so we had to relocate to a hotel for a couple of nights. I said I would take a bath in a bucket, but I was not about to do anything else in a bucket. I do have my limits. While the toilet was out, it sat on the porch. I did not. After the tile dried and the grout went in, the toilet returned to its rightful and private location. Luckily that happened on a Friday, so we were able to come home for the weekend.

That just happened to be a busy weekend at work for me too, as we had an event that I had to be at. It was a short 16 hour day. Sunday morning we were at Lowe's when they opened, with a list of supplies we needed. We had to get things back on track and get our bathroom back. We had opted for beadboard, which the contractor put up on Friday as well, but I told him what type of molding I was thinking of to finish it. It was obvious that it would be into the next week before that would happen. So baseboard and chair rail molding were on our list. We picked up a few other supplies and headed back home. As I unloaded the building of all my power tools , Mick began painting all the trim, then I measured what I needed and began cutting and installing it. The day flew by, and a few storms blew in, but we got all the trim in, with the exception of a couple of small sections. Then we hung the mirror, changed out the door knob, set the vanity, caulked and touched up the paint on all the trim. We figured we saved about 3 days worth of work. The next day when Scott arrived to begin working, he was a bit shocked at the work we had gotten done. He almost offered me a job as a finish carpenter and said he would pay me $40 an hour. Now we knew what we had just saved on the budget too.

That did speed things up quite a bit and they were done the next day. We finished up with the small details of hanging the towel bars and medicine cabinet. Our work lasted a few more evenings. In the end, we are extremely happy with how it turned out.

It did remind me of renovations that we did at home in the late 80's. My parents put in all new windows, a new roof, siding, and remodeled the bathroom and kitchen. This process began in late summer with ordering the windows and getting the roof replaced and siding put on. The windows did not arrive until the week of Thanksgiving. Mom was excited to have all new windows that would tilt in and easily slide up and down, and best of all they were insulated. All the windows were installed except the big picture window in the living room. The took the old window out and tossed it into the dumpster and when they dry fitted the new one, it did not fit. It had been made wrong and would have to be remade, asap. The best they could do was board up a 6-foot x 6-foot hole in the living room wall. Mom was less than not happy. They did manage to get a window built withing a few days into the next week and installed it. We put up the Christmas tree right away. It had become a tradition for us to come home from Grandmaw Barton's and put up the tree on Thanksgiving day. That year it was a little bit delayed.

Now they had to finish the bathroom and kitchen renovations. I don't remember too many issues, but I do remember a new toilet sitting in the living room for several days, right next to the Christmas tree. Along with all the new appliances, my parents had recently had a new water softener installed in the kitchen closet. One night, mom and I were wallpapering the kitchen and about 2am that damn thing kicked on. We thought someone was outside the backdoor doing something and the only weapons we had handy were a wallpaper brush and a utility knife. The only good thing about it coming on was that it woke us up a bit and we were able to finish the job.

Our Christmas toilet. My cat, CeCe was fascinated by this thing being in the living room. Notice the boxes of Christmas lights next to it.

Home renovations are not fun. I have never heard anyone exclaim how much they love them, but I have to say that mom and I did have fun wallpapering that night, and Mick and I did have a good time working on the bathroom trim. There is a sense of accomplishment that you feel when you work with your hands to feather your nest. Even the flaws become endearing reminders of giving it your best.

Well, here are a few pictures of the "after" of our bathroom. Next, the kitchen.

MacBeth and the other cats have all figured out that they can crawl under the sink base. Now they have a new place to hide.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Hillbilly Waterpark

This week we've begun a remodeling project. We weren't planning on it just yet, but our tub had other plans. A few months back we noticed a crack in it, so it did not matter if we were prepared for a remodel or not, we, or rather it, decided it was time.

We called our contractor. Yes, we happen to have one. When you have a house that was built in 1930, you tend to keep one on speed dial. So my husband called Scott and warned him that we were going to need his help. This was a project that was beyond our abilities and, quite honestly, beyond our desire for manual labor. We can handle installing a new sink or tiling a floor, but we figured we better call in reinforcements.

We knew we wanted to do away with the tub and just go with a nice walk in shower. It took us a while, but we found exactly what we wanted. Panels that would go all the way to the ceiling, a cast iron pan and tall barn style glass shower doors. The shower pan will come out a couple of inches more than the original tub did, so then we had to look for new flooring. We have already returned the first tiles we bought and are sure we will be happy with the porcelain tiles he is about to install. If we are going to put in a new floor, we might as well replace the vanity. I have been wanting a raised vanity for years. We picked up a great solid wood and marble top one. The walls are nice, but since they have to tear out the tub and shower, the drywall will come down, so we like the idea of adding some beadboard. You can see where this is going. The only thing we are keeping is the toilet. It's only a couple of years old, so hopefully all goes well moving it out and in.

It took the shower walls and pan a few months to come in, so our contractor finished up some other jobs and just got started this week. We figured it will take about 3 days and we would be able to shower again. We only have one bathroom. They do this kind of stuff on HGTV all the time. It doesn't seem that hard.

In an afternoon, the bathroom was gutted! Whew, that was quick. Out with the old and in with the new. We could tell that this was not the original location of the bathroom. As I said, the house was originally built in 1930. There was a major remodel about 20 years ago before Mick bought it. You could see the original dark wood and newer framing. It's amazing to how big a bathroom looks without anything in it.

Scott has been great about keeping water going for us. We have a toilet still and water in the kitchen. This adventure began 4 days ago. We thought about going to a hotel here in town until it was done, but we are comfortable here at home. We just need a good shower soon. To keep from running each other out of the house, we have been taking whore baths in the kitchen sink. I have a bathing mantra that my mother passed on to me from her mother. When taking a bath: wash down as far as possible, then wash up as far as possible, and by all means - don't forget possible! That's right, I don't remember my mother ever telling me I had to wash behind my ears or anything silly like that.

A couple of nights, Mick has cleaned up in a wash tub we bought to give the dogs a bath in. I call it his Hillbilly Waterpark. We live right in the middle of town, but he has managed a little privacy on the screen porch. Last night, though, a car pulled into the driveway, just as he entered the waterpark. It seemed they were just turning around, but their headlights almost caught a full moon!
It reminded me of Ray Steven's "The Streak" from the 70's. Don't Look ETHEL!!

The Hillbilly Waterpark
We hope the bathroom will be done in the next week. While we have Scott here, we thought we would have him knock out a short list of other projects too. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go. The sun is setting and the moon is about to shine. I have to go heat up some water, the waterpark will be opening shortly.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Bread ( and Butter) of Life

I've teased you a couple of times about giving you my recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. I just made a couple of batches over the last couple of weekends. They will be ready to eat by next weekend.  Having to let them sit for a couple of weeks and get their pickle on is almost unbearable.

The weekend I was going to make my first batch of this year, a friend of ours was coming over to spend the day. Dee got here early and we piddled around a bit with some things and decided we would all go out for lunch. Before we left, Dee said she had been meaning to tell me about a patient of hers. She is a home health care nurse and travels to homebound patients to bathe them, make sure they are doing ok, feeds them and moves on to the next. Of course, she never talks about her patients, never says who they are. But, she wanted to tell me that she had a 93-year-old woman that had pretty much quit eating. Dee said, however, she was wanting some bread and butter pickles. That night when she got home, she looked in her pantry and found the last jar she had from a batch I made last year. So the next day, she brings her a jar of my pickles. She said that little old woman ate nearly the whole jar. She was sure she wasn't going to make it before she got back, but she thought the pickles gave her a boost and she did well for the next couple of days. I almost broke down. I love making them and giving them away. You just never know what a simple gesture can do for someone else. I immediately went to our pantry and found the last 2 jars that I had and gave them to her. Dee said that she is still holding on.

So, after composing myself and filling Dee's car with pickles, we all headed out. We made it to lunch, stopped by an Amish store to get spices and supplies for the pickles, and then decided that since it was such a nice day, we would go for a drive into North Carolina. We wanted to find Shelton Laurel, where my mother-in-law grew up. We weren't far anyway, so through the mountains, we headed. Shelton Laurel, NC sounds like such a beautiful, pastoral place and it is. But, it's got a very disturbing past that spills over into its present. We didn't stop, we just drove through, seeing what we could. We are planning on going back to see if we can find a couple of landmarks that mom has talked about. We would take her, but she would not do well in the car for the couple of hours it would take there and back. I will write about that adventure when we do it.

On the way back we ended up stopping at mom and dads. She told us a few more stories about growing up. I think I could start a blog just with her stories alone and I may do that. It's a story that needs to be told. Before we left, we all ended up in the garden. It's what we do when we go there. Kind of like going to Cracker Barrel, you have to exit through the gift shop. With bags more of fresh produce, we head back home. We've decided by now that it's too late to start any pickles. It takes hours, so we plan on starting early the next morning.

Dee comes back on Sunday to help me get started. We clean up the cucumbers and onions and begin slicing both. I like to cut all of it by hand. I could use the food processor, but I can do it just as quickly with a knife, and I like the pickles to be a little chunky. Then we salt them down and pack them with ice on top. Now we wait for 3 hours. This is just enough time to go get some more lunch. We can't venture too far this time, though. We get back in time to clean the jars and get them sterilized. We fill up the canner with water and set it to boil, and prepare the lids and rings. When the 3 hours is up. we remove any remaining ice and then rinse the cucumbers and onions several times. Now I add the sugar, vinegar, pickling spices, and turmeric. It has to come to a boil for 5 minutes. Now I begin to spoon the pickles into the jars, packing them pretty tight, fill them up with the remaining brine and clean the rims of the jars. The pickling juice is very sticky and gets everywhere sometimes. If there is any on the rim of the jar, it most likely will not seal. Now I add the lids and rings and lower them into the boiling water and process them for 10 minutes. Once they come out, I place them on a towel on the counter and wait for the tink, tink, tink of the lids sealing. Every time I hear one, I yell "Sounds like pickles!"

The next weekend we head up to the in-laws. Mom hurt her leg pretty bad and we wanted to check on her. Her skin has gotten so thin that it does not take much to break it open. She did quite a number on her leg, but said she was ok now and we watched as she re-dressed the wound. It looked pretty bad, but she was doing a good job of taking care of it. She did say that earlier in the week she got pretty upset and began "squawling". Not because her leg hurt, but because she was worried that she would not be able to get in the garden. She worries about that garden. She loves getting in there early in the day and seeing what has bloomed, ripened, is ready to pick, and to pull any pesky weeds. She would not know what to do with herself if she did not have that garden each spring and summer. Dad told her to just go on up there and do what she felt she could and she would be ok. She did and she was. We left with more cucumbers and I made more Bread and Butter Pickles. I will give them several jars. We give lots of it back or use what we put up for dinners when the family comes over.

So even though they are just pickles, just cucumbers that soak up some vinegar, they mean so much more. Growing the cucumbers gives mom a purpose and she loves to be able to do for us. That's what moms do. Making them connects me to my past. I think of Mary each and every time. Even when I am wiping the rim of the jar and look at the paper towel to see if there is any trace of color from the turmeric left when I wipe it clean. I pass the pickles on to family, friends, and co-workers. It's creating a community. Sharing with Dee, and now with you, how I make them passes on what Mary taught me. Hopefully one day, someone will be writing a post about their pickles, that they learned to make because of what I wrote. I hope they make them their own as well. Mary had her process and I have made it my own. Then there are stories like what Dee told me of someone who could have been Mary's daughter. Nearing the end of her life, but wanting to taste something that reminds her of when she was a young girl. If someone asked me what I wanted for one of my last meals, what would I ask for? Pickles do make me happy. I think it's a good choice.

Ok, here you go. Here is the recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. May they bring you the memories, joy and sometimes tears, that they have brought me.

Jimmy's Bread & Butter Pickles
Makes 8-9 pints

For the pickles, you will need:
4 quarts of sliced cucumbers (that's a colander heaping of clean cucumbers, ready to slice)
6 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup non-iodized salt
Plenty of ice

Layer the cucumber and onion slices in a large pan (I use my old enamel roasting pan, but do not use an aluminum pan) Sprinkle with the salt all over and cover the entire batch with a thick layer of ice. Cover and let set for 3 hours.

For the brine, you will need:
4 cups of sugar
3 cups of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of turmeric
2 teaspoons of celery seed
2 tablespoons of mustard seed
2 tablespoons of "pickling spice" - this usually contains peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds, etc.

Remove all of the remaining ice and drain. Then rinse the cucumbers and onions very well a couple of times and drain. Add all of the brine ingredients to the cucumbers and onions, and bring to a boil. (some people like to put all of the spices into cheesecloth and make a sachet that they discard. I like to just put all of the spices in with the pickles. They don't hurt anything and I think they look great in the jar. I also love how the mustard seeds "pop" when you bite into them. It is up to you. Just don't give me a jar without the spices.) Cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Have your lids processing in a small pot of boiling water. Have a large pot of boiling water ready to put your filled jars in. Fill each jar with pickles and then top off with brine, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars. Put on the lids and rings. Tighten by hand until just tight. Process in boiling water, with jars covered by at least 1 inch of water, for 10 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and set aside to cool. Lids should "tink" when they seal. Any that do not seal can be reprocessed. Let pickles sit in a cool place for at least 2 weeks before opening and serving. Refrigerate after opening.