Today is the first Friday of Lent. Catholics and other religions mark the 40 days before Easter (actually 46, but Sundays aren’t included) with various forms of atonement and self-denial. The rules have relaxed considerably with time. When my parents were children the devout were still into some serious fasting, whereas during my childhood, things centered mostly on not eating meat on Fridays. Thankfully, children are no longer terrified that they’ll spend eternity in hell for a beef jerky.
I was raised Catholic, but I no longer practice. Some things, however, have remained etched in my psyche. If I were to pop into a Catholic mass, muscle memory would take over and I could recite my lines perfectly. And, to this day, I feel guilty if I eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Continue reading →
I have some very caring and kind reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You can read about them here. Now on to the reason we can all agree upon: A holiday that’s all about eating and not buying gifts? Yes, please!
I have memories of being awoken before dawn by the smell of onions being sautéed in butter coming from the kitchen. That meant that Mom was starting the stuffing that would fill the bird. Once the turkey was stuffed and in the oven, she’d go back to bed until breakfast time. The aromas would continue throughout the morning as she prepared the rest of the meal.
I never realized what a good cook my Mom was until I ate at other people’s houses. She was a master at roasting and our turkeys were always so juicy with the skin brown and crackly. She’d pull out her electric knife and carve it in the kitchen rather than at the dining room table. We couldn’t wait and would steal bits of meat while she threatened to amputate a finger or two.
It might just be me, but I swear that an electric knife’s motor actually has a faint, distinctive smell. Ok. I might be a weirdo – but that smell, coupled with the sound makes my mouth water. Kind of like the smell of our old plastic Christmas tree is more nostalgic for me than the smell of pine. Yes, I’m warped. It must be a result of being raised in the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.
Anyway, back to the food! The turkey was just the beginning. A few of Mom’s side dishes will be forever be my favorites. Her stuffing was very simple and she didn’t use a recipe: day-old bread, cubed and tossed with egg, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and those sautéed onions and melted butter. No celery, no chestnuts, no oysters. She’d take her wedding ring off and place it by the sink and smoosh it all together with her hands. It was so basic, but so flavorful. It was so good that my sister and I would fight over it – especially the leftovers which we loved to eat cold. I’ve come close to recreating it a few times, but it’s never quite the same.
A am not a fan of sweet potatoes or yams, but I would eat the ones my mother made. I know most of America goes with marshmallows on top, but not us. Mom went with canned yams but then added pats of butter and huge scoops of brown sugar on top. They’d cook in the oven until the sugar and butter formed a gooey, caramelized mush that was absolutely divine. I’d mostly just put a spoonful of goo on my plate, but occasionally I’d end up eating part of an actual yam.
And last but not least, desert. I’ve never been much of a sweet eater, so the pecan or pumpkin pie didn’t interest me. No holiday meal would be complete at our house without Mom’s wine jello. The ingredients included these huge, juicy black cherries – canned, I think, and Mogen David wine. When she died last year, I took a box of her cookbooks and recipes. I need to find the recipe for this stuff.
Along with all of these goodies we’d have rolls, a relish tray of olives, pickles, and carrot sticks, cranberry sauce – both canned and “real,” and some vegetables. I actually remember the first time she tried out a new recipe for something called green bean casserole. It quickly became a fixture as it did in millions of other households, eventually referred to as simply “GBC” at our house.
My Mom was a great cook, but she liked to work alone. We were usually shooed out of the kitchen so we rarely saw the magic happen. We were only called upon when it was time to help plate things and put them on the table. And do the dishes of course.
Dinner would be at 1 or 2:00. We’d come out of our food comas at about 6 or 7:00 just long enough for cold turkey and Miracle Whip sandwiches on white bread for supper – with a lump of cold stuffing on the side. The best!
In the years before she died, my Mom developed dementia. Making some of those dishes was a muscle memory for her. We’d all pitch in to get them cooked and on the table. , it was still very much her meal.
Last year, less than a month before she died, my sister, brother, and I, along with our spouses, had dinner with my Mom and our Aunt Ruth at the assisted living center where they lived. This year, we’ll do the same thing again with our aunt. We’ll reminisce about our childhood holidays. There will even be a new traditions – Aunt Ruth will no doubt complain, as she and Mom did last year, that at least one dish isn’t cooked “right.”
It won’t be the same as the Thanksgivings of our childhoods, but we’ll be together. My sister and I will be sure to argue about leftover stuffing – and that’s something to be thankful for.
Yesterday was my birthday. That’s right. October 30. Halloween Eve. This might be why Halloween has always held a special place in my heart.
When I was a kid, there was always a party at school, so it was like having my very own birthday extravaganza every year. This was of course before every third kid developed a peanut or gluten allergy and before schools went overboard with political correctness. I have actually known of schools that schedule their picture day on October 31 so there is an excuse not to deal with the pro-Halloween vs. anti-Halloween factions. I can’t imagine who would be anti-Halloween, but apparently there are some people out there who don’t like the “pagan” origins of All Hallows Eve.
But this isn’t about those party poopers. This is about my favorite part of the holiday – the costumes!
My history of dressing up goes way back – to my very first Halloween. As I said, I was born on October 30. As my Mom always told the story, on October 31, the nurses brought all of the babies from the nursery to their mothers wearing makeshift ghost costumes fashioned from cloth diapers. From that day forward, my Mom and Dad liked to say that they were never quite sure if I was a trick or a treat. (Yep. My sarcasm is hereditary.)
Over the years, my sister, brother, and I took great care in our costumes. Most of ours were handmade – either sewn by my Mom, or crafted from clothing in our closets. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I am the baby of the family, and things were passed down to me through the years. I never, thank god, wore one of those weird plastic masks with the corresponding smock.
What the hell is that? You are basically an advertisement for The Munsters or Planet of the Apes, you are not “becoming” Herman Munster or an ape. Not only is it ugly, but what fun is that? We much preferred coming up with something creative and unique.
My favorite for years was the gypsy costume. This costume was my sister’s and we both wore it multiple years until it just wouldn’t fit. Satin skirt and matching kerchief, velvet vest. Add a peasant blouse and the tambourine prop. Having Mom layer on the bright blue eyeshadow, some rouge, and a beauty mark on my cheek felt so special. I BECAME a gypsy!
We were not a family of artists, but when it came to costumes we were pretty creative. We were really good at taking everyday things and making something unique. There was the time I got a hideous hand-me-down pants suit with vertical stripes from my cousin Sharon. I turned it into a great convict’s uniform, complete with a big black rubber ball attached to my ankle like a ball and chain. And one year my brother appropriated a floral jacket that no longer fit my sister. He wore a long black wig and carried a toy ukulele and voila – Tiny Tim!
My parents took the prize for what to this day is one of my favorite memories. It was about 1969 or 1970 and my Mom somehow got her hands on an old fur coat. She cut it up and made the matching costume that is still one of the most awesome couples’ costumes of all time. A caveman and cavewoman. Black fright wigs for them both, plus a wiffle bat wrapped in brown crepe paper as a club. I still can’t believe my Dad agreed to do this!
I continued to wear that costume in later years. I didn’t need the wig – my 80s big hair was enough with just a little more mousse and hair spray. We all had a lot of fun dressing up in college. I’d wear the cavewoman getup, or sometimes find something vintage at the Goodwill store. There was always some sort of party going on.
As the years passed, my opportunities to dress up dwindled. My circle of friends just doesn’t get into it, but there was the occasional party. For one, I dressed as a hippy. A kid at the party said “I know what you are. You’re one of those people from the olden days.” WHAT??? I may be a little young to have been an actual hippy, but I do remember the days when they were around.
My stepdaughter mirrored her American Girl doll with a costume made by her grandmother. Mr. Maid, as usual, being a stick-in-the-mud, went as a utility employee. Big stretch since that’s what he does for a living. A party goer thought he was there to service the house and asked the hostess what was wrong!
There was one other time when Mr. Maid and Jacoby went to a father/daughter party at her school. This was in the day when the TV show Crocodile Hunter was at its peak. They were able to easily piece together their costumes from what was in their closets and a few store-bought items.
Overall, my favorite costumes are also the ones of the easiest to pull off. If you’re looking for a last minute costume, be a tourist. A Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and hiking shoes. Accessorize with a bucket hat, camera around the neck, fanny pack, maps sticking out of your pockets, some zinc oxide on your nose. It’s easy, you probably already have everything you need, and it’s comfortable. If you’re like my husband and hate to dress up, go as the Brawny Paper Towel man. Jeans, flannel shirt, and carry around a roll of towels. Easy!
Whatever you do, have a Happy Halloween! And if you have a party – send me an invite and I’ll be there with bells on! Or fur, anyway!
I have always been the unofficial historian of my family. As a child I would spend hours going through the big cardboard box of photos. I’d memorize the faces and the events that were captured on film long before I was born. Mom would tell stories and explain who each person was and how we were related. I listened intently and committed it all to memory.
Not surprisingly, since the death of my Dad, and less than two months later my Mom, my role as the archivist for our clan has become somewhat more official.
I am now the keeper of the cardboard box, along with the photo albums depicting my youth, and that of my parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents before me. These treasures currently sit in a large plastic tub in the corner of our spare bedroom. Continue reading →
For yet another day (I’ve forgot how many so far) the temperature here in my part of the Midwest U.S. will be near 100 degrees. This is just one reason why I am so thrilled to be heading out on vacation in a few days. Mr. Maid and I are packing up to spend a week in Maine where the high temperatures promise to be in the low 70s. Sounds like absolute heaven!
Our plan isn’t complicated: explore the coast between Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, hike in Acadia National Park, sample local beer and wine, and eat our weight in lobster.
As a lifelong resident of Illinois, it will be a particular treat to spend time by the ocean. The sea is so foreign to a landlubber like me. I am jealous of those who live near it and wonder if they take it for granted.
The bodies of water that I grew up with were limited to lakes and backyard pools.
The pools in our middle-class neighborhood were not snazzy “c-ment ponds” like on The Beverly Hillbillies, but the above Continue reading →