TWO MEATBALLS & MASHED POTATOES, twenty-five cents


meatballs

Lunchtime did not loom large in my imagination during my youth Justifiable perhaps given the likelihood of all too familiar contents in my paper bag or lunch pail. I don’t recall seeing a single cafeteria, serving what I imagined to be delicious lunches. In the small two room schoolhouse in New London, Connecticut, I am sure there was none; there was barely room for the four grades of children crammed into its old walls. Give the economics of the Depression era I would not have been allowed to eat in a cafeteria anyway.

Life and lunchtime changed when we moved to Alameda, California in my junior year however. In our own small enclave surrounding the high school, there was a bakery, a coffee shop, a music store which allowed you to listen to records before buying, a few small shops, a movie theater and J.C. Penney, where I began working to earn money to spend at these stores.

And among these stores, a mere block and a half from the school, was the Alameda Delicatessen, advertising two meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all for twenty-five cents! This was the era when gasoline was less than a dollar, but twenty-five cents was still a bargain. My feet wore a path to the deli each day at noon, and in spite of ridicule from classmates, I ate there daily for the remaining two years of high school.

Sixty years later, at a class reunion, a much admired former classmate, who had been a professional baseball player and then scout, confessed that he too had gone to the Deli every day of his high school life, and had eaten meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy and paid twenty-five cents. He too knew a bargain when he saw it.

The large Swedish company IKEA, sells plates of meatballs and gravy to hundreds of people daily. They even sell bags of meatballs you can keep in your freezer for people longing for a meatball fix at home. Costco sells huge bags of meatballs as do a lot of other stores. If people didn’t love meatballs no one would go to the trouble. A local food editor last week did a whole column rating the quality of the meatballs sold at various stores in the area. Whole Foods got the best rating, and it went downhill from there, with some poor company rating no stars. And speaking of Stars, which is the offering at your last cocktail party which got the most action? The large cauldron of meatballs in spicy sauce, right?

Countries around the world have their own version of the meatball. In my husband’s Danish family they are called frikadellar, and are served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

But I have to say, none of these meatballs can hold a candle to those twenty-five cent meatballs at the old Deli which has long ago closed its doors. They are still the best meatballs I ever ate.

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A THIRD HAND COUCH


SOFA

A THIRD HAND COUCH

What is in everyone’s living room?
Couch, sofa, divan or at least
Something to sit upon.

We had wedding rings and silverware
and a rented maroon something
which belonged to Aunt Helen.

Father talked old Harry Hal
out of a salvageable relic
just for the fun of the bargain.

Dirty, torn and uninviting
With stuffing reaching out of horsehair
Yet for 20 bucks it was his gift.

Second hand stores hold mysteries
Unbeknownst to most who
shy from pursuing a treasure.

Suddenly beside the wedding ring
and the silverware
We had a someday couch or sofa.

The antique relic meanwhile
fermented further in the dark
enclave of the in law garage.

The tack man came with bolts of
Green velvet and transformed
the orphan with magic. And reborn,

the foundling proudly lived again
in another living room where
it took pride of place.

One day, green velvet faded and
looking a bit shabby, it knocked on the door
of the wedding ring and silverware.

The tack man came again with bolts
of color for figureheads of polished wood.

Where is the next someone who has
Wedding rings and silverware but
nothing to sit upon?

THE MAGIC OF SOUP


soup4 My mother always told me to order clam chowder on a Friday, because that is when it would be freshest, and not to order chili or baked beans in the middle of the week as it would probably be warmed over. I don’t know if that is true, but soup at any time of the week is a heart warming pleasure.

For centuries soup has given sustenance to weary travelers, hungry families, babes in arms and ancient toothless grandmas alike. Soup can’t be eaten with a weapon, so it was one of the first offerings of friendship to a stranger. Sitting around a campfire in the desert, or on a snow-covered mountaintop, it opens and warms the hearts while filling the belly. A bowl of soup can either be a beginning or the complete meal.

During times of need, soup kitchens feed the resident or transient homeless. It’s like a friendly hand up the ladder to make it through another day. You hardly ever see a salad or dessert kitchen, though a dessert kitchen isn’t a bad idea.

Soup strengthens the bonds of friendship as news, gossip and confidences are shared. A soup kettle is bottomless because it holds Love, the most important part of any meal. It is frequently added to, even as it is diminished. The soup spoon is the largest one on the right hand side because it is the first utensil to be used, thus the most important. Soup can’t be eaten with a knife or a fork so there is no misunderstanding as to which implement to pick up.

The weather is cooling, just as the leaves are slowly drifting to the ground, the days are growing shorter, and we close the blinds against the dark. It’s good to smell a pot of soup bubbling on the back of the stove, it’s like a hug around the heart.

We each have our favorite soups of course, and mine is anything which lasts two or three days, because everyone knows soup is better the next day. Chicken soup has long been considered a cure-all for what ails you, and there is some truth in its stand against a head cold.
Several dear people have brought me chicken soup after an unforeseen glitch in health, which was much appreciated. I still have a container belonging to one of them waiting in my garage. I plan to return it to her even if she doesn’t get sick! I have a small stash of plastic bowls etc. belonging to other people; in fact, there are a couple whose ownership escapes me. Perhaps I should simply throw a party and have them go out and help themselves.

I gathered several of my favorite soup recipes this morning for the coming days, and I will be making Sweet Potato-Corn, Potato Leek, Potato Kale and Sausage, Green Chili Pork Posole, Beer Cheese Soup, Split Pea (to use a few pieces of ham in my freezer) and a wonderful Italian Wedding Soup. Those may take me into the winter and even more delicious meals. The homemade bread I make is wonderful lightly toasted and dipped into the broth.

So many soups gravitate from one country to another, and take on slightly different qualities. Matzo ball soup and the Clump Soup of the Danes, is quite similar, although clump isn’t made from matzo meal. Both are served in a flavorful chicken broth, though I like to spike them up with a few pieces of carrot for color.

soup

Sweet Potato and Corn Soup

1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tbs. butter
saalt to taste
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
2 cups water
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I use chicken)
3 cups yellow or white sweet corn kernels
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 cup milk
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of cayenne
2-3 Tbs. cream

Cook the onion slowly in the butter, with a little salt, stirring often, until it is golden brown. At the same time peel and dice the sweet potatoes, combine them in a pot with the water and the broth and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add the carmelized onions to the soup, deglaze the onion pan with a little of the broth and add it back then puree this mixture in batches in a blender.

Return the puree to the pot and add the corn kernels, diced red bell pepper, chopped jalapeno and milk. Simmer until the peppers and corn are tender. Stir in the lemon juice and cayenne, taste and correct the seasoning if needed. Finish the soup with a little cream.
Garnish with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves.

Serves 8

A TOAST TO JOHN BARLEYCORN


Edouard_Manet_006Some of us refer to this season as “Fall”, while to others it is “Autumn”, I suppose it depends upon which part of the country one comes from. At any rate, the season between summer and winter prior to the 17th century was referred to as harvest season, and wheat, corn and barley were at their ripest before the winter freeze. The hops too were ready for harvest, which incidentally provided the raw materials and may led to the making of more flavorful beer, since the hops provided the “seasoning” or flavor to the beer.

I have written before about the year during the War, when Oregon’s hop crop was in dire prospect of drying on the bines for lack of harvesters. The city of Grants Pass, Oregon actually closed down banks, shops and postponed school openings. The entire town came out and picked the crop. I was one of the high school students who faithfully arrived at daybreak and stripped the bines of their glory.

hops2

The process of barley harvesting was revered and even mythologized. The song or poem “John Barleycorn” is primarily an allegorical story of death, resurrection, and drinking. The main character, John Barleycorn, is the personification of barley, which is attacked, beaten, and eventually dies—or as we prefer to think of it, grown, reaped, and then malted.

After John Barleycorn’s death, he is resurrected as beer, bread and whiskey, a reference some say, to Christian transubstantiation. There are many different versions of the story, which began appearing around 1568. Scottish poet Robert Burns published his own take on the story in 1782. In the British folksong, John Barleycorn is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whiskey. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

170px-The_Brewer_designed_and_engraved_in_the_Sixteenth._Century_by_J_Amman

Countless versions of the song exist, and though it wasn’t the original, Robert Burns version became the model for most subsequent versions of the ballad. In later years, the words were put to music and one of the most famous of these is by the band Traffic on their 1970 album, “John Barleycorn Must Die”.

An early English version runs like this:

There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try;
And these three men made a solemn vow; John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
Til these three men were satisfied John Barleycorn was dead.

Jack London gave the title John Barleycorn to his 1913 autobiographical novel that tells of his struggle with alcoholism.

220px-Edouard_Manet_-_At_the_Café_-_Google_Art_Project

As truly sad as I am for the death of John Barleycorn, I am happy to say that this years’ harvest has provided the opportunity for many Octoberfest celebrations. We were guests at a local Octoberfest two weeks ago, where eight different beers were sampled, after being served by authentic “German” frauleins dressed in charming costume, and pretzels, German sausage, polka dancing and music got the blood flowing.

220px-Oktoberfest2
Munich Octoberfest

The two paintings were by Eduard Manet, At the Cafe

SECOND CHANCES


stairway “Heavenly Stairway” Original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

SECOND CHANCES

Ask the way to the river.
Don’t go where others lead you.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.

You can’t go back
to come to this place

where inkstained
marks on a kitchen door

show where the top
of your head once reached.

Life was warm and safe
on top of the hill, but

childhood trust in strangers
took your childhood.

Don’t go back to sleep
Girl with golden hair.

Sometimes all someone needs
is a second chance.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.

HELLO GOD


clouds3

Hello God,

I don’t know if your remember me, it’s been awhile since we spoke. I know how busy you are, but I wanted to tell you about my friend Joan, who just moved in up there. She was one of the best people I have known down here, so I assume she has already settled in. I hope you saved a really nice place for her.

Some acquaintances through the years actually thought we were sisters since we were together so much. If that was so, she was the pretty one. I remember the first time we met. Her boyfriend brought her over to meet Dr. Advice and me. Of course he wasn’t Dr. Advice yet, and she ended up marrying her boyfriend. She was from Texas, with an infectious Texas accent, and we realized we would be best friends forever, which was a good thing because the boys had been best friends since the age of five, and it would have been awkward if we didn’t like each other.

Her mother Rosie from Texas, named her for her favorite movie star, Joan Crawford, which she pronounced “Joanne”, but like a lot of us, she was called by several names: Joan, Joanne, Josie, but she was always “Joanie” to me.

As you know, she had a lot of problems the past few years, so I hope that has all been solved by now. She was a mean competitor on the tennis court, and we hiked over a lot of terrain together. We went on many trips along with our dear husbands. She lost hers some time ago as you know, so if there is a way to connect them again it would be really nice. I know she missed all that. Speaking of being a competitor, I hope there are some bridge groups up there, because she spent a lot of time winning card games. She also kept me up all night once playing Monopoly, long after the boys lost and went to bed, and she finally won that game too at 6 a.m.

She didn’t win the health game though, but she surely tried. I never saw anyone so brave, and determined. As such, she was a great inspiration to those of us who need inspiration. When she lost her hearing, I asked her if we needed to learn sign language, and she said no, they wanted her to learn to read lips. She became a pro at that too. She took up boxing to try to help her balance. I keep a picture of her with her pink boxing gloves.

I suppose by now you have looked into her case and can see what a great mother she was to her children and grandchildren. She kept track of them all so well it made me feel like a real slacker. People who didn’t know her well said she was sweet. I need to tell you she was a lot more than that. She was smart, funny, and a good business woman as well as sweet. She loved meeting people, and really made an effort to meet new people wherever she lived.

It’s been hard to communicate with her the past couple of years, but sometimes just sitting and holding hands was enough. I will miss that.

Anyway, God, I just wanted to make sure you met Joanie, and took good care of her. A lot of people down here miss her.

50 SHADES OF ALMOST EVERYTHING


001

Rest in peace Cadmium Yellow, Orange and Red (c.1829-2014). Your vibrant, exuberant and reliable reign is about to be brutally terminated. Cut down in your prime by colorless legislators in the European Union.

Cadmium pigment for oils, acrylic, and watercolor has been an ingredient of artists’ palettes since the 19th century, and prized for brilliance, intensity, and lightfastness.

The EU believes that suitable alternatives can be made or do exist. But what is wrong with something which has been used all these years? If it ain’t broke–don’t fix it.

The relatively high cost meant that few painters could afford to use it until World War 1. (Strangely, J.M.W. Turner, an often reckless dabbler in new media, doesn’t seem to have tried cadmium yellow.

It was used to paint vehicles, and to color soap,glass, jewelry, toys and later plastics. The most famous use of cadmium yellow was for the New York taxi. Whistler, Monet, Matisse, Munch, Picasso, Warhol, (and Kayti Rasmussen) have all relied on it.

Granted that the paint is dangerous if eaten or inhaled, but it does come with a warning, like all the other things government has taken away such as DDT, Diazinon, etc. It may be dangerous to open a can of Pillsbury biscuits, they do have a habit of exploding.
Painters use a relatively small amount of cadmium. They argue that the problem is caused by the industrial use of cadmium in batteries.

Could there be a puritanical motive in banning cadmium paints? Barnett Newman’s most famous work was the series of 1960’s murals titled “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”. He was of course referring to cadmium red and yellow. The point he was trying to make is that people are afraid of large blocks of color, seeing them as hedonistic and frivolous.

For the past two decades the dominant color among designers has been gray (Fifty Shades of Grey), with black in the wings. Car manufacturers have had almost no need for cadmium yellow or red–practically everyone drives a black, grayish, or white car, often with dark tinted windows.

Mark Twain took a trip to India with his family who were dressed soberly in dark sensible colors. He was impressed to see Indian ladies in colorful sari, smiling at him as they passed by. Were they happy because they were wearing color, were his family unhappy because they weren’t? Who knows?

sea urchins

Looking around, I see that I am typing on a black keyboard, which is feeding into a black computer. I recently bought another pair of black pants to go with my other five pair of black pants. But I’m clinging to a bright cadmium orange top.