Monday, September 28, 2009

Visiting Friend

My after school and weekend job when I was in high school was at the college food service at Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa. I made lots of friends in the bowels of the Cornell kitchens and dining rooms. Some are still friends to this day. Anne is one of those friends.

This is a souvenir of an award Anne and others had made for me back in 1981. I kept it all this time. I don't remember the circumstances that led to me getting this, or why I never threw it out after so many moves and life changes, but there it is.

She was over here in the UK, far from her native Minnesota to be a referee in a tae kwon do tournament in Manchester. As a 5th dan black belt, she's kind of a big deal in tae kwon do and travels all over the world to be a referee. Manchester is a mere jaunt down the motorway from us. In fact, we regularly travel to and from our family holidays from the Manchester airport. Armed with this information, she extended her visit to the UK for a few days and came up for a visit.
I had not clapped eyes on Anne since she was a guest at our wedding over seventeen years ago. I must say that the years have been very kind to Anne.

We did have a bunch of fun during her stay. I took a few days off so that I could devote all my time to her visit. We went to Edinburgh one day and the Scottish Whiskey Experience at the top of the Royal Mile and slap up against Edinburgh Castle.
Anne accurately described the whiskey experience as" sort of like Disneyland for drunks". Pretty accurate description! We bought tickets, went on the ride (yes there is a ride) that informs about the process of making whiskey. On to the good bit - whiskey tasting! We bought the higher priced ticket that included extra whiskey tasting (naturally). Sitting in front of four jars, each jar having cotton impregnated with one of four different elements you might taste/smell in Scottish whiskey. Mostly I was thinking "blah blah blah . . . give me whiskey". I still don't like the smoke riddled Islay malts. Give me a gentle Speyside malt anyday! Oh, blends are nice too.

After the whiskey experience we went to The Jolly Judge for some lunch. Outside Inside

We toddled around the centre of Edinburgh for a bit - took the obligatory photos of Fleshmarket Close. Have you read the book by Ian Rankin named after this small bit of Edinburgh?
Anne was here for about three days and we really packed in a lot in that time. When she was getting ready to depart, I gave her my copy of Julie/Julia. Anne had already taken her mother to see the movie and we talked about the film/book. The film hasn't arrived at our local cinema yet, but I had finished the book and was happy to see it go to a good home. I liked the book well enough, though I did find Julie a bit of a drama queen and ever so slightly whiny. Despite that, the story was engaging and it had me all fired up to inflict some experiments in French cookery on my family.

About a week after Anne left, a parcel arrived for me. . . . From Amazon . . . . . boxes from Amazon are always good. It was addressed to me! More intrigue! It was box of presents! As a generous thank you Anne sent me My Life in France by Julia Child ( a delightful autobiography) A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky (which I am reading just now and really love) AND the ultimate fabulous book of all time Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle and Beck!! I was thrilled beyond speech to have these lovely books. With this kind gesture, Anne has cemented a permanent and standing invitation to visit whenever she wishes, with whom ever she wishes and stay for as long as she wants. In addition to that, I solemnly promise that she will never ever have to eat fish or cooked spinach.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grandma's Cook Books

I am SO lucky to be the caretaker of my late grandmother's cook books. They were entrusted to me by her only daughter, my mother.

The three old books no longer live their lives in a kitchen. They're too fragile for raucous kitchen life. They now stay on the sedate shelves of our guest bedroom. From time to time, I will go in there and visit them, leaf through the pages and marvel at them. They are church cook books from Fargo, North Dakota. These are books created to raise funds for a church or ladies aid society with recipes donated by members of the parish. One book still has its cover so I know that it was created by The First Lutheran Ladies Aid, Fargo, North Dakota.

The other two cook books are missing covers but in the body of the book one can see that underneath each recipe is a woman's name and town of residence (usually Fargo), the standard format for crediting a recipe in a church produced cook book. I love that a lot of the time the woman's name doesn't actually appear. What comes instead is something like Mrs. Walter A. Rost or Mrs. Gordon Naylor. The recipe and the husband's name lives on for all to see, but the woman who donated the bit of kitchen lore is hiding behind her husband's name. The tradition still lives on in our family with ancient aunts and uncles. You get points for addressing letters to Mr and Mrs Paul F. XXXX leaving the aunt's name off altogether. When Christmas cards come to the house address to Mr and Mrs Henry, I know that they are from beloved ancient relatives. In the blank and mostly blank pages of these books, my grandmother has written in recipes that she liked. Sometimes a recipe has been pinned to a page with a straight pin - no staples just yet.
Her grandchildren have lovely memories of her visits as she would almost always make a special batch of cookies, a pie or cake.Here is one recipe entitled Susan's cookies. The Susan in the title can only be my cousin Susan, the only Susan in the family and one of her first and most treasured grandchildren.

I had a brief instant message conversation with yet another cousin, dear Lu Ann yesterday she recalled quite vividly Grandma's lemon meringue pie and molasses crinkle cookies. The pie recipe was one that was written on of the blank pages right underneath a recipe for grasshopper pie. The pie is not made with real grasshoppers though grasshoppers are plentiful in North Dakota! The pie is made with creme de menthe. Sounds yummy!

I trawled through for which recipe could be the molasses cookie recipe. None were called Molasses Crinkles and there are more than one recipe for molasses cookies in each of the three books. There was one recipe that stood out amongst the others due to the well spattered page it was on. It could very well be the ones that Lu Ann remembers. Lu Ann will have to make the cookies and see if this is the recipe that she remembers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Harsh Realities

Dearest darling readers,

I will start with an apology for not giving this blog the attention it deserves. What started out as a lazy streak turned into an almost summer long break. I will endeavor to be better in the future. I have LOADS to write about!

With all the stories that have backed up in the past weeks, I don't want today's news to get overshadowed.I killed chickens today. I killed all six of them. I know this news will upset people but my hens were not pets. The hens are on our place to lay eggs for me, that is their function. The stock was getting very old. I think the youngest hen was at least three and the oldest was well past six. They were not laying very well anymore, some not laying at all and it was time for sentimentality and these old hens to go.

I will spare you photographs of dead chickens and draw a discrete veil over how they were dispatched. I will say that it was done as humanely as I know how and that before they died, my hens had a happy and cosseted life.

Not long after the deed was done, the ones that were healthy enough were plucked, cleaned and either put in my freezer for coq au vin at a later date or given to the neighbours for their pot.

I then whipped around to the nearest free-range egg farm that is run by friends Shona and Paul and purchased eight fresh hens. These new girls look a bit bedraggled even though they are free range gals. A few weeks here should see them plump up a bit. As they are already laying, I look forward to their first efforts!
These are the new hens. They will be getting kitchens scraps and lawn clippings as well as some cabbages that were too slug riddled for humans to eat. Let's hope for their sake that they make with the eggs pretty quickly.