Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Chocolate Galas not withstanding, sometimes we just need a little Comfort Food. While the exact types and recipes can vary from sweet to salty, savory to spice, I think it’s probably more the memory or emotion a particular food evokes that is most meaningful.

For instance, back in the Dark Ages after I attended the morning session of kindergarten (yes, it was just half days back then!), Mother would often fix a grilled cheese sandwich for my lunch. White bread, with just enough butter to brown the bread, but not enough to make it soggy, American or Velveeta cheese, all nicely toasted in a cast-iron skillet.  Mmmm! This is still one of my favorite sandwiches, especially when paired with tomato or chicken noodle soup. Not the chicken soup from a can, mind you, but the Lipton kind from the packet with the little skinny noodles. Isn’t it funny to be so picky about such a simple thing as chicken noodle soup? Stir up a beaten egg with a little salt and pepper and add enough flour to make a thick paste, then drop tiny dumplings from the tip of a teaspoon into the simmering broth . . . oh my. That’s comfort food.

Another basic meal on the list is poached eggs on toast. Last weekend, while visiting Daddy, we had this for breakfast on Sunday. I told him how I recalled this as being one of the things Mother might make for me if I had to stay home from school due to sickness. Was it the protein she thought I needed?  The comparable blandness that would go easy on my stomach? The soft texture of the damp toast and the smooth egg that wouldn’t irritate a sore throat? The answer eludes me, but the memory remains, just like the times Dad would warm up milk in a pan on the stove and drizzle in some honey, stirring until it dissolved, and serve it in steaming mugs. That, too, was comfort food.

Custard pie and homemade ice cream make me think of my Grandpa Charlie and his siblings. Chinese food reminds me of my sister and her husband, because the first time I met him (before they were even engaged!) he took us to an excellent Chinese buffet for lunch in Tulsa. Chicken mole, first prepared for me by my dear sister-in-law, has become a favorite, and I never order it without thinking of her and my brother. And how can I possibly look at barbeque beef brisket without a fond remembrance of my Uncle Stan and cousin Dan, or see smoked salmon and not call to mind cousin Greg?

So, now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, if you will, and share your favorite comfort food, and why.  Then, get comfortable!

Going Home Again

Going Home Again

The Thomas Wolfe line “you can’t go home again” is widely quoted, with various connotations.  I have to admit that I’ve not read anything Mr. Wolfe wrote (or at least not that I can recall; high school was a long time ago!), so if the context here is ill-applied, mea culpa.

My parents watched their house being built in 1955, and still live there today.  But they both had roots–hers deeper than his–in a small town about 80 miles away, where we were fortunate to be frequent visitors with both sets of grandparents, a few great-grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins.  To me, this seemed like my rightful “hometown”, and I still stop by there now and then, mostly to place silk flowers at numerous headstones in the cemetery where 5 generations of my kin now rest.  It’s a peaceful place, that hillside by the little white Methodist church, and there are definitely more folks in the cemetery now than there are left in that tiny, sleepy town.

Cruising slowly up Cherry Street after my stop at the kirkyard, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look at the once-proud old Victorian house that had been my maternal grandparents’ home.  Houses require upkeep, and this one hasn’t received the TLC it deserves.  Roofing, paint, and window work would be a good start, and probably some updates to the heating, plumbing and electrical systems as well.  And it’s possible the foundation could use some shoring up, and those weeds out back ought to be mowed!  I bemoaned the condition of the place to my cousin Kerry L., and received in return his kind words of wisdom, which were something along the lines of:  “Whether the house is there or not, your memories remain.  It’s the people who lived there and the time you spent with them that you miss.”

And you know what?  He is so right.  Just topping the hill on the two-lane highway approaching town, made the words “I see the Bridge!” pop into my head, just as my siblings and I raced to be the first to say them each time we were driven there for a visit.  The sight of the flagpole in the middle of the crossroads by the funeral parlor immediately brings to mind the dinner table tales of Daddy being paid a nickel (and later a dime!) to shimmy up and shine the metal ball at the top.  The fact that the driveway to the house is overgrown now doesn’t dim my joyous recollection of hopping out of the station wagon, racing to the front door to be enveloped in my grandma’s embrace, and promptly being offered some warm-from-the-oven pie crust with cinnamon sugar baked on top.  “These pieces were left over” she would tell us, “would you children like to clean this up?”, as if we were doing her a big favor by assuaging our hunger with a sweet treat before dinner.  Grandpa’s books, the card games he always won (we didn’t mind, he beat Everyone!) Grandma’s paintings, the high-ceilinged bedroom upstairs with tall windows in three walls that were angled so that we could see up and down the street as well as straight across . . . the memories go on and on.  They’re here, in my head and in my heart, where they will stay and be treasured.

And in this way, even through the grief of loss, there is the celebration of what was.  And what it was, was pretty special.

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O Tannenbaum!

O Tannenbaum!

The following is a reprint of my Christmas holiday post on the Goodreads site from last year.  The sentiment remains! 

Everyone’s been busy with their holiday preparations and celebrations. Christmas is my favorite holiday, without doubt. The carols and cards and candles, the wrapping paper and (more recently) gift bags, garlands and bows and ribbons and wreaths and the spirit of giving, the Cookies!  And let’s not forget the Reason for the Season! But through all the years, almost every Christmas season, one of my favorite activities is decorating the Christmas Tree.

My siblings likely recall a few more fresh trees than I do, from the Boy Scouts’ sale corral on the parking lot at our church when we were young. By the time I’d turned 10 our parents had an artificial tree, which meant no one had to crawl underneath the sappy, pokey branches to put water in the bowl of the stand, and Mother didn’t have to battle so many pine needles in the living room rug. Even better, we could usually sweet-talk Daddy into bringing in the box that held the tree the evening of Thanksgiving, so that the holiday decorating could begin. Most of the year this box was balanced across boards in the open-ceiling area of the garage, so the extraction of it involved at least one ladder, some tricky balancing, and no small amount of dust which inevitably tried to halo Daddy’s head for his trouble, but choked his nostrils and dang-near blinded him instead. The air was blue from it afterward. . . or maybe from the comments it elicited in the process.

Once the box had been wiped off and brought into the house, though, the fun began. Sorting and assembling the branches, shaping them to look just so, disentangling the lights and testing bulbs on the strands that weren’t working, and then the Main Event: the ornaments. These days there’s a tendency toward “theme” trees, where all the decorations are coordinated to appear matching or complementary and quite lovely. Not me; I’m a sentimental traditionalist all the way. Almost no ornament is too shabby from age or humble in its design to pass muster for my tree.

I’ve often said that for only raising one child, we got a heck of a return on our investment: four grandchildren! Yesterday I really hit the jackpot when they helped to move things around to clear out a corner of my living room and put up the nine-foot tree that brushes the ceiling of this old farmhouse. As we opened the boxes and took out particular ornaments they heard the provenance for so many of them: “This one we bought as a souvenir on our first family trip to Colorado to visit Papa’s folks; this one was sent to your mama when she was just a baby; that stocking was mine when I was your age; these were made by your Great-Grandma; those came from the set my parents bought in 1955!” and so on. And yes, there were a few tears when I located the sack that contained a few more, including the last one that Larry had picked out himself, the memory of that occasion clear as a bell. The children and I agreed that Papa would be pleased to see us getting the tree up to enjoy and hanging that ornament while thinking of him.

And so, new memories are formed. My hope is that some day down the line, these precious ones will be decorating their own trees with the families they raise, and will cradle a delicate striped glass bulb or a hand-sewn stuffed felt dove in their hand and maybe relate something about it to their own little ones. If not, at least to see the old familiar bits mixed in with their own newer collections, and feel the family love that they symbolize, along with God’s love for us all. (see John 3:16)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Red, White and BOOM!

Red, White and BOOM!

As holidays go, the 4th of July is one of my absolute favorites.  Sometimes there’s BBQ involved, often homemade ice cream comes into play, occasionally a family gathering, or maybe even all three of those at once, which makes for a really fun time.  But of all the Independence Day traditions that abound, it’s the fireworks that truly make it special for me.

All across America last night (and in some places tonight, or even tomorrow night) untold quantities of cash were literally blown up in the sky.  It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we scrimp and save and pinch pennies for most of the year, but come July 4, not only do we collectively set a match to millions, we enjoy it!  How and why this particular tradition began is something I’ll have to research someday.  It’s a good bet, though, that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined how we’d be celebrating their signing of the Declaration of Independence all these years down the road.

My parents were children of the Depression, and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a devoted student of the Dave Ramsey School of Financial Peace.  So it makes no sense whatsoever for me to be so enthralled by the sight of so much money going up in smoke–however colorful–on an annual basis.  But every year, when this little farming community puts out the jars and the coffee cans at local businesses to collect for the Fireworks Fund, we all pull together for the Cause.  The local volunteer fire department donates their time and expertise in planning and executing the show at the city park, where everyone gathers on their blankets and lawn chairs.  The Boy Scouts sell hamburgers, hotdogs and soda pop, there’s kettle corn for sale at another booth, and sometimes snow cones or funnel cakes.  When the daylight diminishes and the announcer introduces the music with our National Anthem, all voices still.  People of all ages are on their feet, hands on their hearts, gazing across the lake toward the command center for the festivities.  And when the final tones of “O’er the Land of the Free . . . and the Home of the Brave!” fade away, the show begins.  We’re captivated.  We’re proud to be Americans.  We’re spoiled rotten by the abundance and the privilege and the money-wasting excesses of our society.  And for that hour, at least, I’m glad of it.

Three cheers for the Red, White and BOOM!

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