O my God, thank You for October, with its colorful leaves and pumpkin-spice everything. But some of Your humans have declared it National Liver Awareness Month. OMG, do You think we should spend 30 days thinking about liver? After half a century, I’m still trying to forget my mother made me taste it.
I will never inflict such harm on my readers. I keep my lousy poetry to myself. I never coerce anyone into studying her belly button. As for my being a windbag — perish the thought!
Having dispelled these unfortunate associations, let us return to my profound end-of-summer reflections:
- Regardless of propaganda touting it as the ingredient for pizza, smoothies and cheesecakes, nobody likes kale.
- My husband’s “short” bike rides require a passport.
- Grandbabies’ discriminating palates prefer four summer food groups: sand, mud, gravel and sticks.
- My palate also dictates four summer food groups: butter pecan, salted caramel fudge, chocolate almond, and Moose Tracks.
- A related reflection: Skinny, beautiful people on TV drool over yogurt, but they never, ever will convince us it can replace ice cream.
- I sleep with only a sheet, but still need a quilt on my feet.
- If we water gardens to induce rain, the clouds know.
- Also, the probability of rain is in direct proportion to the amount we spent on Cubs tickets.
- If not for relatives’ summer visits, would the carpet get swept from June through September?
- Nobody really likes an ecologically diverse yard. Or wants me to preserve the prairie.
- Morning glories I plant always shrivel as if my trellis were radioactive. Yet a thousand healthy, nasty lovelies strangle my cucumbers.
- Deer who scavenge neighborhoods never eat crabgrass.
- Scratching sounds in an attic mean raccoons have started a summer obstetric ward there — or mosquitoes have grown bigger than I expected.
- While rainy days ruin human vacations, my fern, Carolyn, considers steamy conditions a five-star experience.
- If you live by a lake, visit kin who live by a different lake. Hurry, because it’s almost fall, and that’s the only way you’ll get a free vacation, too.
- I and other Stain Queens should be forbidden by law to wear white pants.
- People who grill only vegetables are not to be trusted.
- If a certain age, never shop the weekend before school starts. You will park in a different zip code. You also will return home with 143 15-cent notebooks.
- Ferris wheels at county fairs still fill me with six-year-old wow.
- After a lifetime of watching people voluntarily buying cotton candy, I still haven’t figured out why.
- Finally, when police know campers next to your site on a first-name basis, pitch a tent in your backyard instead.
Yes, summer will fade, but never fear. I soon will supply my readers with a whole new set of reflections — autumn reflections.
Not that I’m a windbag, or anything. …
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What end-of-summer musings fill your mind?
If abnormal, you saved lots of money. And added years to your life.
Still, we who joyously hand over cash and longevity wouldn’t miss these hometown Mardi Gras for anything.
Not long ago, I helped staff a booth at the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, my former hometown. Not a novelty. When we resided in Plymouth, I sold soft drinks to fund my children’s activities. I also joined most of the town’s population (10,000) in parking cars that annually brought 350,000 people to the party.
Yay! I didn’t sink into melting asphalt. Nor did I, like dozens of stand owners, hover over sizzling stoves. Instead, I perched inside the souvenir/information booth, yakking with old friends. I even met Miss Blueberry, whose golf cart graced the park.
My privileged position, however, brought new challenges.
If you stand behind book stacks, people think you know something.
Thankfully, after 28 years of Blueberry Festivals, I could answer the Number One Question: “Where are the bathrooms?”
When 350,000 people need to go, they mean business.
“Paid restrooms across the covered bridge,” I recited. “Free portable johns near Jefferson School.”
By the 177th inquiry, a tiny inner voice whispered, “For this you achieved an English degree?”
I quashed it (See, the degree didn’t go to waste!), glad I could, um, serve humanity.
Question Number Two: “Where are the blueberry doughnuts?” The seekers’ eyes mirrored the restroom hunters’ urgency.
Yes, people came to scream themselves into spasms on carnival rides, to applaud bands, crow in rooster contests, paint faces, reenact battles, cheer Little League, rassle pigs, and test testosterone with sledge hammers and souped-up tractors. They scoured craft tents for quilts, stained glass, handmade furniture, John Deere china and marshmallow shooters.
But whether attendees wear polyester shorts, Amish attire or tattoos with little else, food sends them to festivals. All year, everyone dreams of favorites:
- Corn popped in an enormous black kettle.
- Thanksgiving-platter-sized tenderloin sandwiches.
- Deep-fried elephant ears, butter, Pop-Tarts® and Kool-Aid.
- Plus, all things blueberry: doughnuts, pies, sundaes.
“If you buy here, neither of us starves!” read one stand’s caption. Watching the line at his window, I doubted any danger of either.
Back to booth duties. I was not only expected to know all, but to locate all: lost eyeglasses, car keys, phones and preschoolers.
I also was to ensure good weather for the hot-air balloon launch.
I had no idea that booth would grant me such cosmic power. But that’s what festival magic will do for you.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite festival and why?
Soon after our wedding, Hubby and I discovered crucial differences. A key divisive subject: broccoli.
I had grown up eating broccoli, pretending to munch trees like a powerful giant. I liked the taste. Broccoli was good for me and filling — important in a household with four siblings. What wasn’t to like about broccoli?
In Hubby’s family, no one competed for food or imagined eating trees. His father and brother also loathed broccoli. Drowning it in cheese sauce, his mother insisted they eat it occasionally.
However, my new husband formulated his own broccoli policy, namely, nada.
I adopted his mother’s.
The debate continued for decades.
If my mother-in-law had cooked the President’s meals, he would have tried three bites or been sent to his room.
Like Steve, President Bush probably believed his DNA rejected broccoli. My husband even insisted God never created broccoli for human consumption.
I’d never encountered Scriptures regarding broccoli, with or without cheese sauce. However, several commanded him to give thanks for what was set before him.
Hubby replied with Scriptures that discouraged quarrels.
One day as I typed, deep in Novel Land, Hubby leaped from the hallway, hands thrown open like a spotlight performer. “Ta-da!”
He announced, “I’ve found scientific evidence that taste depends on a person’s DNA—”
“You interrupted my best writing time to diss broccoli?”
“Look.” He offered his laptop.
“I don’t have to look. That writer’s scientific expertise probably consists of blowing up science fair projects with his kid.”
Finally, I read the article. It stated a person’s DNA profoundly affects taste. The author, a bona fide scientist, didn’t sell snake oil or exploding science projects on the side.
I. Was. Wrong.
Daily I become more aware of Steve’s forbearance and generosity … because he reminds me.
Still, the more I pondered his broccoli triumph, the more I questioned: Should our DNA enslave us?
I take bitter-tasting medicines because they’re good for me. Hubby wants his patients to do the same.
Yet he can refuse broccoli, despite its nutritional value, because it doesn’t taste good?
The great broccoli debate rages on ….
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What food inspires debate at your house?
She taught me her dab-of-this-and-that recipe. Chopping onions wrung a million tears from my eyes, and my weepy attempts couldn’t begin to match her blue-ribbon results. At potlucks, I learned to avoid other cooks’ mushy, bland concoctions sprinkled with scary green things. Thus, I took part in the Great Potato Salad Controversy, far more extensive than I could have imagined at that tender age.
That reality truly hit home when, at 16, I waited on a restaurant customer who ordered German potato salad.
Retrieving the food, I called to the cook, “You forgot the potato salad.”
“You’re crazy. It’s right there.”
The manager corroborated the cook’s absurd claim: the sliced potatoes in gooey stuff with bacon was indeed German potato salad.
When, as a young married woman, I explored recipes, even American potato salad presented controversies. Some cooks insisted on real mayo, as if Miracle Whip were pushed by criminals out to ruin the purity of American cuisine.
Then yogurt and low-calorie radicals intensified the debate.
Add mustard versus no-mustard schools of flavoring, dill versus sweet-pickle/relish, mystical devotion paid to fresh herbs, and religion-sized chasms separated various sects.
Rewind to Mom’s potato salad. I wish she — and I — had conceived the lucrative potential of our culinary endeavors.
According to the New York Daily News, Zack “Danger” Brown challenged viewers of a fundraising website to finance his first attempt at making potato salad.
Expecting $10, he raised $55,000.
Thankfully, Brown was no potato head. He made a huge contribution to his hometown food pantry.
Mom also fought hunger with her potato salad. She regularly filled up a large, voracious family. She shared it with lonely parishioners, troubled teens, ex-prisoners, domestic violence victims, and itinerant preachers. Occasionally feeding 30-40 people at one meal, she made tons of potato salad throughout the decades.
Today, chopping onions and staunching teary eyes, I remember a woman who gave not only cups of water in Jesus’ name, but bowls and bowls of the world’s best potato salad.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What comprises your perfect recipe?
Birthday cakes boast a long, illustrious history. According to the Huffington Post, Greeks and Romans commemorated births of gods and men with candle-lit cakes. As wine flowed freely at birthday feasts, the honoree occasionally set his robe/toga on fire.
Birthday cake traditions still are regarded as sacred. Abstainers offend the family/office/church Cake Queen. (Watch your back, or she may stuff you into her oven.)
So, for survival reasons, I eat birthday cake. Thankfully, lighted candles suck out all calories.
On my upcoming birthday, however, I will indulge in raspberry pie. À la mode? Of course, à la mode. Do you think I’m an idiot?
Don’t answer that. You, either, Hubby.
Obviously, this crucial subject demands discussion. Though my sweet tooth welcomes sugar, regardless of origin or creed, I have always liked pie best, especially my mother’s — fruit-plump, with ambrosial juices bubbling through golden, flaky crusts.
As a child, I even loved reading about pie. Almanzo Wilder, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, reverently scanned hundreds at a county fair: “When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else.”
Mom would have made me birthday pies, if I’d dared request them. But tradition ruled. I blew candles out on cakes.
Pie Heaven does exist on this earth. My brother not only married a woman who bakes the world’s best peanut butter pie, he practices optometry where Amish patients gift him with luscious offerings. Amazingly, he once shared his birthday shoofly pie with me … which made me suspicious. Had he stuck bananas up my Ford’s tailpipe? Informed the IRS I never had the three children I claimed? Volunteered me for a ten-year mission in the Sahara? I still wonder. …
Some opponents caution that deviating from the cake custom opens the door to chaos. Only at one’s wedding does one deal with cake-in-the-face. But birthday pie increases pie-in-the-face risks exponentially.
And their point is?
When globs of luscious pie are within licking distance, who cares about my hair? Some people should get their priorities straight.
Did you hear that, Almanzo? I know you’d bravely take a pie in the face. And choose birthday pie, too.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Which would you choose? Birthday pie or cake? Which kind?
Does anything spell h-o-m-e like a kettle of simmering soup?
I grew up in southern Indiana, where winter (aka slop season), gleefully dumped rain, sleet, snow, or all of the above on us. After school, my siblings and I slogged through frozen fogs and bogs. After petting all the wet dogs we could find, we arrived home looking like mud-sicles. The bubbling, meaty fragrance of Mom’s soups thawed us out and cured a host of maladies: lost-library-book anxiety, gym class climb-the-rope deficits, spelling-contest memory loss and flat-chest syndrome. That delectable vapor also scared away any viruses that had followed us home.
Dad, after long days at his construction job, noticed a similar curative effect. His sore muscles unknotted. The what’s-this-economy-coming-to hammer on his temples slowed.
Mom’s soups, consisting of between-paycheck rations, wouldn’t appear on The Food Channel. Teeth-defying beef bits were simmered into submission with potatoes and frozen vegetables from our garden. She boiled ten-cent-a-pound chicken wings, then cooked “slop-and-drop” rivels in the broth. My Southern-born dad looked forward to ham-bone bean soup. Saturdays brought chili, a suppertime ritual sacred as the weekly bath night.
When no meat remained in the freezer, Mom cooked creamy potato soup. Occasionally our family saw several days of bean or potato soup in a row, a silent marquee that proclaimed, “Don’t ask for money.” Still, those soups warmed us up, filled us up and helped us grow up.
Perhaps, by law, every northerner should consume one steaming bowl of soup daily from November through March.
Groucho Marx wouldn’t agree. In the classic 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, he elaborated, “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”
Duck soup? He obviously hadn’t tasted my mom’s soups. Perhaps Groucho had been sampling Chinese bird’s nest soup. This concoction with an unappetizing name — and a literal bird nest— currently costs $30-100 per bowl. Or maybe he ate lunch with a Japanese mountain tribal group who served their soup of bananas, beans, and dirt (twigs included). Perhaps Groucho hadn’t recovered from a trip to the island of Palau, where bat soup — boiled whole and hairy with ginger, spices, and coconut milk — is considered a delicacy.
I’ll stick with less exotic fare. Tonight, beef vegetable barley soup, using Sunday dinner’s leftover pot roast, plus crusty bread, will take the Groucho out of Hubby and me. And leave us only one pan to wash.
Simple. Cheap. And, as an old canned soup commercial declared, “Mm-mm, good!”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite soup warms your winter days?
During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.
The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.
It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.
A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!
Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.
When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling. Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.
Toddler: Cookies ready yet?
Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.
Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!
Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.
Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.
Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—
Toddler: For the ’frigerator??
Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.
Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?
Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.
New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.
Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.
Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.
With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?
Once upon a time, in our backyard, there lived Penelope the peach tree.
Actually, two lived there. But even as we moved in, Percy the peach tree took one look at us, his new owners, and said, “There goes the neighborhood!” He never recovered.
Penelope delayed her judgment. Still, she expressed her disapproval: not one peach appeared that first summer. Next spring, though, pale pink blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches, exquisite as an oriental painting. I told Hubby, “That tree loves us.”
Visions of bubbling, crusty pie à la mode and caramel peach praline shortcake filled my salivating days.
However, when Hubby thinned tiny, excess peaches from Penelope’s branches, she took revenge by producing three edible fruits — and a thousand that resembled green ball bearings rolled in pepper.
The mutant peaches did not go to waste, however. I made jam as Christmas gifts for my less-than-favorite relatives.
The following year, we respectfully requested Penelope produce real, peach-colored peaches, bigger than a marble. And no black rash, please.
Some trees, like some people, can’t take constructive criticism. The following spring, she wore only a few sulky blossoms and no fruit. Our fractured relationship distressed me. My relatives started speaking to me again, once they knew they wouldn’t receive pepper peach jam at Christmas.
It was a very sad year.
Next spring, however, blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches. Perhaps she’d repented of her pettiness. More likely, she simply forgot. Peach trees aren’t known for sharp memories.
When hubby thinned Penelope’s too-plentiful peaches again, I exercised caution when walking behind the garage, her domain. Would Penelope throw her remaining peaches at us?
Surprise! Penelope’s green peaches grew from marble to golf ball to baseball size. So many loaded one branch that it cracked. She obligingly provided just enough greenish, pepper-dotted fruit to make Christmas jam for my relatives.
But Penelope’s peaches ripened in her time frame — not when I was free to pick, peel and slice. Because of writing deadlines, I remained chained to my laptop.
Hubby made new weekend plans.
As my dearly beloved donned an apron, we heard devious chuckles from behind the garage. Penelope exacts revenge on peach-pruners, one way or another.
Hubby griped. But I had infected him with my pie and praline shortcake vision. He peeled and packaged.
Is he a peach of a guy, or what?
To Penelope, this ending to her saga may seem like the pits.
But smiling at each other over hot peach pie and ice cream, we’ll take Penelope’s “happily ever after” every time!
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite peach indulgence?
I know exactly where to find ice cream in my hometown. So do thousands of academics, farmers, ball teams, Bible study ladies and motorcycle gangs.
Ivanhoe’s has served area ice cream addicts for decades.
So that evening I forced myself to leave Hubby and the others — hoisting a piano above their heads — to seek a grocery.
Consulting his phone, Hubby gave me directions, then bowed his head and prayed. “At least, we’ll see each other in heaven.”
Okay, so I needed 13 tries to navigate endless roundabouts. By time I found the address, I had viewed the outskirts of Louisville, Chicago and Japan.
I finally found Hubby’s designated grocery store.
It had not yet opened for business.
Sitting in the store’s soon-to-be-blacktopped parking lot, I realized my family could have moved the White House’s contents since I left.
I reached for my cell phone … that I’d left at home.
A vision of my grandson, stuck-out lip quivering with disappointment, gave me courage to try again.
I would accomplish my mission the old-fashioned way, like my father before me.
His method? Pick a direction and trust God to lead to a store/motel/gas station/restrooms.
I found auto repair shops, upscale tattoo parlors, and … marinas. In Indianapolis?
Like Dad, I tried one more road … that led to a health food store.
Desperate, I entered and found ice cream!
Soy cranberry and papaya bark.
In despair, I sank to the floor.
Then spotted it on the bottom shelf:
Not carob. Not tofu. Not even yogurt.
I bought it and arrived as the last piece of furniture was moved into place. Not even Hubby possessed the energy to roll his eyes.
Smiles that reigned as our grandson blew out candles morphed into frowns as I plopped ice cream on pieces of cake.
“It’s not healthy,” I promised. “Honest.”
“Yes, it is.” My other grandson pointed to the label. “It says this ice cream came from healthy cows.”
“Taste it,” I pleaded. “Real chocolate chips, see?”
My family is nothing, if not broadminded — especially when starved.
Smiles returned. Birthday Boy ate two big helpings.
Everyone needs character-building tests, challenges that demand their all.
But I’m glad my usual ice cream quest requires only a three-block walk to Ivanhoe’s — without a single roundabout — to choose from 100 sundaes.
Now, there’s a challenge. …
Where does your favorite ice cream quest lead you?