Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Real Life Conversation

My front yard was the scene of a neighborhood coffee-hour recently. By noon everyone was leaving, carrying their own chairs back home, chattering in friendly tones as the gathering dissolved into the next segment of Saturday.

The eleven-year-old boy from across the street offered to help me carry and put away my lawn chairs and tray of mugs. For some reason, my nose was dripping, so I said, “Just a minute, I have to get a hanky first.”


“I have to grab a hanky.”

“What’s a hanky?”

“You know, a handkerchief  . . to blow my nose on . . . like a tissue.”

“Oh!” and with that detail, he nodded in recognition.

When I was his age, at least once a year, my mother ordered for my sister and me each a dozen hankies with our names embroidered on them. That way, if we dropped one or left it at someone’s house or school, we’d get it back. Obviously, it didn’t work too well because the next year we’d each get another dozen hankies. 

The conversation with my young helper is a telling distillation of our double-generation gap, and it makes me feel very grandma-like.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Minute Pudding

In the late 1940s and '50s, once a year for Sunday lunch my dad would make a family recipe called minute pudding. He always invited his family, especially his still malleable daughters, to share it with him. 

Minute pudding is not a delicate dessert, as you might imagine of a recipe called "pudding." It's a main course made from flour, milk, baking powder, and salt—flavored with nutmeg. The gooey dough looks something like dumpling dough, and after it cooks it still looks like a big, doughy lump. We would sprinkle sugar on it and pour milk over it. It was like eating doughy, flavorless bread dunked in milk. It was awful!

“Can you this being your entire food for the day?” Dad would ask us. We'd grimace. "I'll bet you'd think it pretty darn good on an empty stomach, though,” he'd continue, then add something like “M-m-m-m . . .  there’s nothing quite like minute pudding.” 

He was right; there is nothing like it in any recipe book I’ve ever seen. It was a strictly homemade concoction invented out of desperation by my great-grandmother, Anne French Johnson.

Minute Pudding  (recipe copied in my hand more than forty years ago)

Bring to a boil 1 pint of milk
Add Salt and nutmeg to taste
Sift flour (there is no quantity, but start with 1 cup) with ¼ tsp. baking powder

Keep adding flour to the milk until thick. 
Turn into a bowl and bake for 20 minutes in a slow (300 degrees) oven.
In my handwriting I added,Eat with reverence.”

As we ate our minute pudding on those Sundays, Dad would narrate stories he had heard as a child from his father who grew up in rural Iowa and left home to 'come out West' as soon as he completed eighth grade. 
Inside my great-grandfather's saddlebag was
the 'good book'--the only tool of the trade
itinerant preacher needed in
the mid-nineteenth century.

Apparently there were a lot of times in my grandfather's childhood when he didn't have enough to eat. Grandfather died when I was three (he was born in 1860), so I never had a chance to talk to him about his early years myself. But my father filled us in on tidbits, as we were ready for them.

We learned that sometimes grandfather and his two sisters suffered from much deprivation in their isolated cabin in rural Iowa, especially if hunting was poor and someone didn’t shoot a turkey or some other wild animal for them to eat. "They went to bed hungry many nights, and if it hadn't been for minute pudding, they might have starved to death.”

This is my great-grandfather's hide-
bound Bible published in 1840--
well worn and well used.
Their father, my great-grandfather, was Rev. Allan Wesley Johnson, an itinerant Methodist minister born in 1819. He traveled from town to town on horseback throughout much of Iowa and Minnesota. His work kept him away from home for long spells, and clearly the remuneration was little more than the hospitality of the people he ministered to. He was also an alcoholic (although my father’s word was 'drunkard,' no doubt used by my grandfather, too, when talking about his childhood deprivation). That meant when the Reverend Johnson was home, he was frequently unable to provide for his family.

I was probably thirteen when I realized my dad actually didn't love minute pudding, despite the "m-m-m-m" that inevitably accompanied its consumption. Instead,Dad was repeating a personal ritual that he had learned from his own father, a ritual created to never forget how blessed it is to have enough food to eat.

As I read about the increasing poverty rate in our country, I think about this story . . . this recipe. I haven't made minute pudding but once in my adult life, but just thinking about it makes me feel so blessed.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shocking Pencil

Several years ago now, our granddaughters from Minneapolis and their parents came to visit us in Bothell. As the hosting grandparents, we wanted to do some activities unique to Seattle. In that spirit, we planned a trip to the Seattle International District to shop at the 'nothing-like-it-in-the-Midwest store, Uwajimaya. Not only did we enjoy wonderful food there, but the shopping was fantastic. Among other purchases, my younger granddaughter and I each bought a pencil that looked like a cigarette.  

 Recently I was cleaning dresser drawers and came across it. I have to confess, just for a moment, I thought there was a real cigarette in my dresser! (Good old days? What an awful thought!)

I stopped cleaning and began to pose in front of the mirror, considering how I might have a little fun with my wooden 'cigarette.' 

I don't ever want to sharpen it so I could write or draw with it. No, I'd rather horrify people--taking it out of my purse in a restaurant, say. I would be immediately asked to leave the premises! Driving with it in my hand on the steering wheel could be fun, too. Then there's Symphony Hall, cinema lobbies, art museums . . . the list goes on. What about just standing in front of my house, holding it in a provocative pose? 

Of course, it just went back into the drawer and I continued tidying. The next time I clean out that drawer (five years, at the rate I'm going), I'll probably have forgotten all about it and will have the same--or even stronger--reaction. I hope so. My life is pretty dull these days.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nature's Polka Dots

On my regular Sunday morning walk, I pass the back nine holes of Wayne Golf Course. The golf course was established in the 1930s, and presumably the apple orchard was planted before the course was established.

Now, as typical of century-old apple trees, the fruit isn't very good now. Even most of the critters that roam the land seem to leave it alone. The trees drop their bounty all over the golf course (probably making it hard to spot a ball that's gone missing) in this random pattern. Isn't it beautiful? I was quite taken with the cheery, perky look of light green little spheres lounging about on the deeper green grass, as I passed by this morning.

The Wayne golf course land, by the way, has been saved from development by the hardworking grass roots organization I've written about in past posts--OneBothell.org. Check out the new website to see what a wonderful and vital success story it has to tell. I'm a proud volunteer for OneBothell.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Singapore (Old Tom) Gin Sling

 In 1959 my dad visited Singapore and stayed at The Raffles Hotel. When he came home, he raved about the  delicious Singapore Gin Sling he’d had there. The fancy drink had been invented by a bartender at the hotel more than thirty years earlier and drinking one was considered essential as a the local experience. 

When Dad showed us the recipe surreptitiously written down for him by the bartender at the Raffles, we asked him if he was going to try making one at home. He answered, “Oh, no—I can’t. Old Tom Gin isn’t available here.” (In those days the monopoly of Washington State Liquor Stores greatly limited availability and selection of all alcoholic beverages.) In fact, maybe Old Tom Gin wasn’t available anywhere in the USA.
I recently read about Old Tom Gin making a resurgence as a craft  liquor. Apparently craft liquors are becoming as popular in their own right as craft beers. I dragged out the recipe given to Dad, written on a piece cash register paper by Seng, the bartender. 

      [to the best of my ability to read the handwriting]:

1 glass Old Tom Gin (port wine glass)
1/2 a glass Heering Cherry Brandy
1/2 glass local Lime Juice (Fresh) & sugar
Add dashes of  D??, Maraschino,  Curacoa, Angostura Bitters & orange Triple Sec
Cracked Ice in a shaker
(Shake well & serve)

This piece of paper is almost sixty years old, and its ingredients don’t quite match the one identified online as “the original Singapore Gin Sling” recipe. My guess, though, is that this version is pretty darn good. My dad returned to Singapore several other times and with each visit always made sure to have a Sling at the Raffles. They must have been good, but I know he never even tried to make one at home.

Compliments of Seng (and a colleague of my dad’s, Bert Smith, who told urged him originally to stay at the Raffles Hotel), I make this recipe public. Here you go, reader . . . try it! And if you can read the "D" word, please add a comment to the blog so I can correctly represent the recipe.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Always learning something new . . .

Here I am, seventy-six years old, and still discovering funny little mistaken ideas stemming back to childhood. I just learned I’ve been mispronouncing a word wrong since I first learned it in fourth grade.

My dad read aloud to us a lot. A favorite book of his and mine was Nathanial Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales and A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. The two books, originally published separately, were bound in the same volume we owned, and my favorites were Hawthorne’s retelling of many Greek myths. Before I took a fantastic course on Greek and Roman Mythology at the University of Washington, that first exposure in fourth grade was my base-line for everything I knew about Greek mythology (and I had to unlearn a lot of misconceptions that Hawthorne propagated based on his nineteenth century understanding).

One of my favorite characters was Pegasus the flying horse, and I especially loved how he heroically enabled the killing of the chimera. My father (who—when I was ten—could do no wrong) pronounced the name of the three-species-monster as “shimmer-uh” as he read the story aloud, with the accent on the first syllable and a nice, soft ‘sh’ sound starting off the word.

I’ve read the word from time to time over my lifetime, each time imagining that’s the pronunciation, and never questioned it—ever—and never heard anyone else say it, either. Well, at least not that I realized, until . . .

. . . an NPR story about biotechnology’s push to  intentionally create hybrid embryos from several different species came on my car radio, and the announcer talked about the creation of a modern-day monster, a “kye-meer’-uh.”

What? It took me a few seconds to make sense of this new word, and then a quick judgment that the announcer was mispronouncing chimera!  But wait—wouldn’t he have checked the pronunciation before doing a radio program about it? A big ‘oops’ crossed my thoughts about then, a big "Don't tell me it's my mistake!"

As soon as I arrived home, I opened the Mirriam-Webster dictionary on my iPad and touched the icon of the speaker on the word chimera—and, sure enough, I have mispronounced it for about sixty-six years. In my head, anyway. I don't think I've ever needed use the word.

I’m smiling as I write this. I love how humbling a little event like this can be. I’m smiling thinking about how my dad probably heard the word mispronounced by his dad when A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys was read aloud to him in the early 1900s. I’m smiling thinking how hard we both would have laughed over this perpetuation of error, if I could share it with him. I wish.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Please pass the peonies

There was a time in my life where I wasn't keen on peonies, at least not inside the house. Every time I picked one to use in a bouquet, an earwig (or two or three) would arrive with it. Earwigs are insects that give me the crawlies. But I guess I have something in common with them. If earwigs could talk, we might both say the same thing: What's not to like about peonies?

I love how peonies start out as round tight buds, not even hinting at the glory that will burst forth when they reach full bloom. They remind me of children--you can't tell what they're going to be like when they're little. You have to wait and see.

Peonies introduce fragrance and color into the garden and when brought indoors defy visitors and unobservant inhabitants to ignore them. A person simply cannot walk into a room with a vase filled with peonies in full bloom and not remark on them.
Photo  by Katie Sullivan Remley
used by permission

Many years ago, a favorite coworker married a young woman who was a serious photography student. When Micah told me that some of Katie's photos had been accepted into a juried art show, I was impressed and made a point of attending the exhibit to demonstrate my support for her hard work and talent. I fell in love with her photo of a peony and purchased it for our home where it's been hanging ever since. I don't know if Katie Remley is still photographing flowers, but I do see the amazing photos she takes of her two growing sons every year in her family's Christmas card.

My one and only
big vase--in use for more
than fifty years already!
As I was snipping the ends of a half-dozen tightly closed buds I bought today at my local farmers' market, I stopped to study the vase I was using. Received by Jay and me as a wedding present in 1962, it is the only large vase I own (except for a few florist freebies).  It's a great size and shape, but I rarely think about its enameled design.

Today, I couldn't help but notice the design. No wonder I like it!

The flower-grower at the farmers' market told me today's peonies could be the last of the season because of our early spring and the heavy rains of the past several days. The best thing about peonies is that they'll be back again next year and every bit as spectacular as they are this year.

Meanwhile, breathe in. Imagine a spring evening where the light is fading and a beautiful fragrance fills the air. What a wondrous gift.