And Exhale

2017-09-28 11.37.25 (1)Pecans are falling from the trees. It’s an indication that our growing season is over. A storm moved in yesterday bringing dark clouds, cooler temperatures, and scattered showers. It looks like it may stay awhile. I’m originally from Wisconsin and miss the four seasons. This change in weather is a gift.

I have finished canning, and our shelves are stocked. There are still a few cantaloupe, peppers, carrots, and onions in the garden. This morning I picked the last of the pomegranates. The vibrant colors of peaches, apples, apricots, and watermelon have disappeared from our breakfast table. I feel the shift inside me. A longing to pull inward and to focus my attention on the house has set in. Farmers don’t have time for spring house cleaning. We get the job done in autumn. The list of winter projects is long, and I worry we won’t get them all done before it’s time to trim trees and till the garden next spring.

The seasonal change has affected my palate. A Cesar salad sounds bland and cold. My body desires bubbly stew, hearty soup, spicy pot roast, and warm bread. Tonight I’m making chicken pot pie and butternut squash. I’m craving a pan of brownies, but it’s a slippery slope, so I’ll refrain.

Wildlife feel the shift, too. Hummingbirds are draining the feeders at an alarming rate as they prepare for their southern migration. The pecans I scavenged off the ground this morning have been gnawed on by rabbits. The same rabbits that sit under our apple trees waiting for the overripe and bruised fruit to fall. Rattlesnakes are coming in close to the house looking for a warm winter home. A swarm of bees gathered on a piece of lawn furniture yesterday. Ron caught them in a bee box. They seem content to settle in. The Great Horned Owls have expanded their hunting grounds and only come home every few days. I miss their antics. The migrating birds have moved on. The doves and finches will stay for the winter, but without other birds to compete with, it is quiet around here. Too quiet.

Without the frenzied orchard and garden schedule, there is time for introspection. We have lived here just over a year. Gone are the days of trying to keep up two homes while working full-time jobs. For a year Ron and I have taken the dogs on a walk down the runway each morning. We have eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. We have figured out a rhythm that allows us time together and time apart. We have thrown parties, spent time with family, and have made new friends. Most importantly, we have lived our lives on a schedule that leaves time to enjoy the things that matter to us. Every day I remind Ron we live a good life, and every day he agrees.

 

Food for Thought

2017-09-17 18.41.06I read cookbooks like I do novels—reading first the front and back covers followed by the copyright date. I flip through the pages to see if there is anything interesting like prologues and letters in novels, advertising and how-to pages in cookbooks. Like a novel, if a cookbook holds my attention, I will fight exhaustion and ignore my to-do list to finish it.2017-09-17 18.37.29

My mom recently shared two family cookbooks with me. Cato Heights 4-H Club Cookbook had belonged to her mother, my Grandma Elizabeth. The Book of Recipes, published in 1923, had been my great-great aunt Verna’s. Both were falling apart at the seams and had yellowed with time. The cookbooks were like unexpected gifts my relatives left for me. Carefully handling pages splattered with decades-old cake batter and pickle juice, I remembered both women fondly. Their DNA were on the pages. My grandma wore several jeweled rings at a time and pink nail polish. I pictured her licking her right index finger as she turned pages. Verna’s eyebrows remained dark even though her hair had turned white. Her hands shook when she served tea with banana bread. Both my grandma and Verna were writers. Verna, so eager to jot down a recipe for “My Own Made up Oatmeal Rocks,” wrote over the text on the first page. My grandma’s beautiful cursive handwriting covered recipe cards that were slipped in between pages. The cookbooks held childhood memories in the form of a divinity recipe my grandma used at Christmas and a corn relish recipe Verna followed in the summertime.

2017-09-17 18.39.27I have a shelf of cookbooks that I have collected over the years. Many of them I found at antique and second-hand shops. I don’t buy them for the recipes, rather their providence. Some contain quotes about food and family from famous authors. In others, hand-written cryptic notes are in the margins. Margaret served this at her husband’s wake. My favorites contain pages dedicated to advice. For example, to remove candle wax, rub the area with ice, scrape off the excess then place stain over white blotter and press with a warm iron. A Party List for 100 People caught my eye and includes 25 lbs. of wieners and four gallons of ice cream. Both pieces of advice are found in the Saint Philip’s Parish Mix and Stir cookbook circa 1965. I have my mom’s copy. She has my grandma’s. It is the only cookbook I actually use. Like my Aunt Verna’s cookbook, the Quick Breads, Cookies, Pies, and Cakes sections are stained with chocolate, egg, and vanilla. I committed my pie crust recipe to memory after a peach slice slid across the page blurring the measurements for oil, flour, salt, and water.

In Verna’s cookbook, I found a Western Union telegram from Albany, New York dated October 25, 1940 addressed to Verna’s sister, Gladys Butler.

MRS. L J BUTLER

ACCEPTED JOB AT 300 STOP GET MR CALKINS ADDRESS FROM MARGARET MASON WIRE IT TO VERNA ARRIVING LANSING SATURDAY HOME ABOUT TUESDAY

LOVE

L J BUTLER

2017-09-17 18.38.47At the time, Europe was in the throes of WWII. That same month, the National Geographic timeline  reports : More than 400,000 Polish Jews are herded into a part of Warsaw known as the Warsaw Ghetto. This continues in Poland the Nazi campaign against the Jews—the Holocaust, in which six million Jews will be killed, along with hundreds of thousands of other minorities. Italy invades Greece. German troops later come to the aid of Italian troops.

A far cry from cookbooks, we track history through war, economic despair, and political upheaval. Baking, cooking, quilting, canning, gardening, sewing, slip into the shadows when there is a crisis, but they are the things that mark our daily lives in good times and bad. Anniversaries, birthdays, christenings, weddings, holidays, etc. connect us to the people we love and help us overcome uncertainty.

Our country is struggling right now. Like many of the people I know, I find myself angry or in tears over things I cannot control, but I take solace knowing I am able to gather the folks I care about around my table for good food and laughter.

The first page of the Mix and Stir cookbook contains a Recipe for a Happy Life. It may not solve our problems, but it can help us get through the day:

Make your own sunshine.

Take equal parts of kindness, unselfishness, and thoughtfulness.

Mix with love and scatter with helpful words.

Add a smile or two.

Throw in a spice of cheerfulness.

Stir with a hearty laugh.

Share with everyone.