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Monday, October 31, 2016

A Tale of All Hallows Eve



Tonight we had about 18 Trick-or-Treaters. It was a nice evening, so I am not sure why we didn't have more. We've had as many as 75 in past years. When my brothers and I were young, we never had trick-or-treaters to our house. We lived up on a hill in our neighborhood and no one wanted to walk all the way up our driveway. And, our dog would probably have run them off anyway. We were the ones out on all hallows eve.

We would get ready as early as we could. If it was on a school night, we would start getting dressed as soon as we got home and then we bugged mom and dad about going until they finally gave in. We had the same route, pretty much all of our lives. Main street in Toms Brook was where the action was, and we were right in the middle of it. We would all get loaded in the car and dad would pull up to the curb somewhere near the school or the Post Office. Mom would walk with us and we would start door to door.

We didn't have many costumes to wear, so we mostly made our own. Miniature hoboes were always a sure fire hit. We would take one of dad's t-shirts and stuff a pillow under it to make us fat. Some of mom's eyebrow pencil would dirty up our faces pretty well. Mom had one wig in the closet that she used to wear and one of us would end up with those black curly locks on our head with a trucker's hat from dad as well. We had the look down pretty good and it made us seem pitiful enough to warrant getting lots of candy. There may have been a couple of years that we had a store bought costume. I think there was a Casper The Friendly Ghost. I am sure there was a Planet of the Apes one somewhere. But, those would have been passed around between us until they wore out.

In Toms Brook, we would hit all the regular houses. We knew who would try to scare us as we walked up. Although it didn't matter that we knew it beforehand, we still jumped and screamed. I think one of those was a preacher's house. He would be out on the porch in some outfit and as we got close, bam, there he came toward us. I seem to remember one or more of us running off.

Some Halloween nights were nice like tonight and some were cold. There was one night I remember that it rained like crazy. That didn't stop us, though. We used paper bags back then to put our candy in. Some years we got creative and took one bag and cut it up to make handles for our candy bag. These were so big that you could almost collect your weight in goodies. We never got much chocolate I don't think. We did get lots of hard candy, sour candy like Smarties, popcorn balls and some gave out apples. Our bags would be so heavy by the time we were done. The year that it rained, our bags were particularly full. I guess other kids didn't go out and we got their stash too. We were walking up the side of the street and the rain was just pouring down on us. We were crying because our makeup was washing off and whoever had the mask couldn't see. Our bags were getting too heavy and even though we were raking it in, we just were not happy about it. I am sure mom was even less thrilled. As we were walking I remember Pat getting really upset. As we all looked at him, there went all of his candy into the street and the gully wash of water was going by so fast that it washed all of his candy down the gutter. His paper bag had gotten so wet and was so heavy that the bottom let loose. I think mom grabbed an apple before it was gone and tried to give it back to him, but he threw it down in the water and stomped on.

The only thing that could save this night was our final stop at the Stoneburner's. Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner would meet us as we climbed the long stairway to the front door. She didn't try to scare us and she didn't drop a piece of candy in our bag and send us back down the stairs. We were invited in. Inside they had all the furniture pushed aside and the centerpiece of the room was their dining table. It was loaded down with bowls of candy, cakes, pies, drinks, popcorn balls, and apples. It was paradise! We could have any and all we wanted, but I don't think we ever put much in our bags. Most of it was eaten right there. Mom and dad would sit down in a dining chair along the wall and catch up with Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner. Mr. Stoneburner had a shop out back where he made and repaired clocks. Their living room was filled with them. When the hour struck, the whole room would go off, but not at the same time. They had them timed out and it went on for several minutes. It was almost cooler than the table full of treats. The Stoneburners would get so excited whenever someone would arrive. They loved seeing how we changed over the years and they talked to each and every one of us. Their house was the highlight of Halloween each year and it was usually the last stop before home.

When we got home, we would each dump out our loot onto the floor and compare what each other got. Sometimes we would trade, but mostly we would hoard all that we had. Mom went through our candy, making sure that there were no razor blade or needle marks in it. I don't know how that urban legend ever began without the internet, but we all heard about the kid that bit into an apple that had razor blades in it. I remember mom making us put our candy in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and we would only be allowed so much each night. I also remember hiding some under our beds. One year I found candy near Christmas.

We never had trick-or-trunk, never went to the mall, and never went to a party for Halloween when we were kids. Trick-or-Treating meant that we walked the streets, knocked on doors and when they answered we sang "Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat, If you don't, I don't care, I'll pull down your underwear!" Sometimes we got an evil eye from a church lady or two and we stopped half way through. Nobody wanted to sing about their underwear anyways.

As we got older, we did end up at the church on Halloween. Our parents became youth counselors and the initiation into our youth group each year was to go through a haunted house. We would meet in the basement of the church, in the social hall. It would be a small party with some Halloween music and candy. The older members of our youth group would set up the haunted house in the kitchen. It had doors at both ends, so they could take you in one side and out the other. All the new kids from that year had to go through initiation to officially join the youth group. You would be blindfolded and led through by hand. Your lead would take you from station to station and you had to put your hands in stuff, eat or drink something, and things would get tossed on you as you passed through. You would scream and try to run because they would make you feel a bucket full of eyeballs, or eat worms, and bats would fly into your head. But you had to make it all the way through, or you would not get in and had to do it again next year. If you did make it through, you were sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone what happened to you in there.

Once you made it through, you could join the rest of the party. We would even end the night with a taffy pull. The taffy we made we would sell to the church members and that raised money for our group. If you made it all the way through the haunted initiation, you got to help the next year. You might be a guide or you could be at one of the stations of eyeballs or worms. That was, even more, fun than going through initiation. You really got the chance to pull one over on the new guys. You found out that the eyeballs were just grapes in a bowl full of jelly and the worms were just macaroni in cold pasta sauce.

Halloween has always been right up there with Christmas. And, I think no matter how old you get, you can enjoy both with the excitement and awe you had as a kid.

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.