DISCARDING THE UNUSED


Once you decide that you are not going to make all of the recipes you have been collecting for 71 years, it is time to sort through the mess. As I have confessed in the past, I surprised my husband on our honeymoon with the knowledge that I did not cook. My soul accomplishment was holding a hot dog over the flame of a gas stove till it became crispy and blackened. Flash forward through trial and error and cooking classes, and I became what has been euphemistically called a good home cook.

I have an abnormal collection of cookbooks, most of which have one or two pages turned down to remind me of something I once made which might be repeated at a later date. I have my mother’s cookbooks, my grandmother’s recipe books, much of which is written in her own hand which I can no longer see. There are files containing recipes from friends and relatives and clippings from now faded newspapers. Tucked in amongst these are scribbled notes in undecipherable shorthand for recipes of my own making.

I have threatened for some time to address this unruly mess. My Depression era upbringing has instilled in me a faint hope that I may need something once again and it will be gone.

The supermarket has been my enemy in many ways. While roaming through the aisles I create amazing future meals, and toss in one or two or three items which then reside my my pantry until I wonder what on earth I bought that for? The produce department is better because vegetables do not have a shelf life.

The freezer is a wonderful thing too. Lately I have wondered why I have bags of frozen fruit, some of which has been languishing for more than 2-3 years. The nectarine tree has been gone for two years at least, and an apple tree left soon after. Nestled alongside in one freezer (we have two) were bits and pieces of left-over somethings which I thought might make a nice lunch someday. Since it was waste collection day, I hauled it outside to the pick-up bins and forgave myself for being so wasteful. The tins in the pantry I can give to those who can use them, more than thawed out soggy old fruit.

I became accustomed to entertaining large groups of people through the years, and needed quite a few containers to freeze things ahead of time. Though we still entertain a lot, I have found that eight is all I can comfortably handle by myself. One of these days I will begin sorting through pans and trays etc. for the local thrift shop. I have not yet mastered the art of cooking for two and not have it last for over two days. Soup is an exception of course, one always adds to it whether you need it or not.

Having accomplished my freezer clean-out , I tackled the “meat dish” recipe folders. It was a fine way to spend a little time because obviously all recipes had to be read and evaluated. Many pages had become separated from their partners, making them literally useless, so they went in the “out” pile along with most of the newspaper clippings. The “maybe” pile contained things like spinach-cheese tamales, because of some I had eaten at a Seattle restaurant. The “Save” pile grew as I went through them, wondering why I had not made this or that at least once.

You can get a recipe for anything from the internet, including copy-cat ones from a favorite restaurant, and many young people do just that. On the other hand, young women from the Boomer era still call for recipes they remember from their past, which makes it important to keep the “Save” pile. During the course of a lifetime we all create delicious stand-by recipes which are kept in our mental vaults. After all, we know what tastes good.

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“EULOGY”


“Black Elk,” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“Eulogy” by Sherman Alexie

My mother was a dictionary,

She was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language.

She knew dozens of words that no one else knew.

When she died, we buried all those words with her.

My mother was a dictionary.

She knew words that have been spoken for thousands of years.

She knew words that will never be spoken again.

I wish I could build tombstones for each of those words.

Maybe this poem is a tombstone.

My mother was a dictionary.

She spoke the old language.

But she never taught me how to say those ancient words.

She always said to me “English will always be your best weapon.”

She was right, she was right, she was right.

Excerpt from commencement speech Gonzaga University
Sherman Alexie, writer, poet, film maker
Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Native

THE NAMING OF BABIES Kate’s Journal


Newly pregnant parents spend a lot of time searching through lists of baby names to bestow on the newest little one. My parents had no choice in the matter as my Grandmother named me for her long dead mother. This seemed logical since she had given my mother the same name.

Kate Kendall was taken from her family at the age of twenty-five, leaving a grieving young husband and three motherless children under the age of six. The stories which filled my childhood of my Great-Grandmother were of necessity filtered through the uncertain memory of a six year old. Who was Kate Kendall really? Her passing left her children to create the person they thought she was.

My Great-Grandfather, George Kendall, remarried soon after Kate’s death to an even younger woman who became a stern step-mother. Though George was an avid photographer, all photos of Kate were destroyed save one un-named mourning photo which may or may not have been Kate. It shows the value of putting names on our old photos.

Grandma remembered her as a happy playful companion who loved to dance and sing. Bits and pieces of an all too short childhood were often related to me if Grandmas saw in me a likeness to her mother. Grandma said her mother had been a teacher, but when I got her death certificate it showed that her job had been a mill girl. A not uncommon occupation in the cotton mills in New England. She probably had been a Sunday School teacher in one of the Congregational churches. Grandma said Kate had died because of catching a cold dancing in a draft, but she really died from consumption, probably from dust from the cotton mill.

Searching through the faded red velvet autograph/journal which is signed “Miss Katie Hadley, White River Junction, Vermont”, I don’t think anyone traveled too far from home in those days, but according to her diary, she spent a few months in Kansas City where a number of people signed her book in the flowing cursive writing of those days. Among the signers was George Kendall, who seemed interested in pursuing a relationship when he wrote: “Although our acquaintance has been short, And the time has swiftly flown, Permit me to call you a friend like those I have longer known.” It is dated August 13, 1886.

No knowledge of how they met, whether at a dance as Grandma thought, or from a work association, because her father and George’s father were cabinetmakers? George himself was a contractor, having at that time built many of the public buildings in Bristol, New Hampshire as well as many private homes.

Grandma said they never knew their Mother’s family, the Hadleys, though they apparently lived nearby. Why was that? Yet soon after Kate’s death, they came hoping to take the middle child, Aunt Georgia, home with them. They did not want my Grandmother because she was too “strong-willed” nor did they want the two year old baby because he was a boy and boys are too boisterous. It didn’t set well with their father, and they never saw them again.

Many years later, as I was entering the names of some of our children in the big Kendall Family Bible, I stumbled on the entry for Kate and George Kendall’s wedding date, April 22, 1886. Grandma Nellie’s birth date was October 13, 1887. Looking closer, I saw that the final digit in the marriage date was smudged and changed to 1886. Why would George write his ”hopeful friend’ poem in Kate’s diary four months after they were married? It seems clear to me that Kate was pregnant with Nellie on her wedding date, which would not lift an eyebrow today. Did the smudged digit show that Kate had rubbed out the original with a spit dampened finger, to make it all ‘come right’ with future generations? Did the Hadley grandparents disown Kate upon learning of her pregnancy? We will never know, and it doesn’t really matter, but it may have answered some questions at the time.

Why do we choose the names we do for our children to carry throughout their lives? They seem to come in great variety today, though family names still carry down through the ages. We often name babies for people we love or admire which is a nice tradition too. It is flattering to have someone named after you. It shows that someone cares enough about you to want their child to bear your name. Our granddaughter is the latest ‘Kate’ in our family. Grandma would be happy to know Kate Kendall’s name lives on.

IN THE HOT SEAT


For lack of a better titla we’ll call this one “Spring Melt”

We in the Bay Area are not accustomed to triple digit weather, in fact the average temperature has been touted as being near perfect year round. Not so for the past few years, but the thermometers are currently ridiculous. The thought of an icy stream in the shade of tall trees is appealing.

A man at the gym in Seattle became dehydrated and hit the floor with a bang, putting him into bed for a few days, which tells us to drink more water. Even our pets are drinking and stretching out on cool tile floors.

Dr. A has been boosting the color in the rear garden. I am amazed at his industry. Since I told him I find it hard to see darker colored flowers, he has been busily planting pale beauties in large pots. After he removed my cute white fig tree, he replaced it with a rather large flowering plum. Harvey, our paraplegic rabbit, found a new home among pots of pelargonium at the base of a bird bath. He peers out with indifferent eyes at the feathered invaders above him.

Our president tells us their is no such thing as climate change; it is just “weather”. Well yes, of course it is weather, and weather has waxed and waned throughout history, but if there is a change and we are encouraging the change, I think it is time for us to bite the bullet and begin thinking of the generations to come. Several years ago a friend who farms blueberries in Chile, told of the hole in the ozone layer which greatly contributed to increased heat. I have no argument with people who agree with the current President, only time will tell if he was right.

In the meantime, I ponder the variety of delicious and nutritious cold dinners. Our granddaughter, who has been living in London for some time, has recently moved to Barcelona, where the temperature this morning was 8l degrees, which in her case was desirable. She said the Spanish custom of tapas and sangria makes for a delightful dinner, after which a midnight swim under thousands of stars was just about perfect.

HAIR OF THE DOG


It is no laughing matter. We have hosted many varieties of canine throughout our nearly 71 years of wedded bliss, during which time I have been more or less on top of the cleaning game. The Health Department has never visited our home with poor housekeeping complaints in hand.

However, we have been “done in” by a Jack Russell Terrier, whose shedding has caused us to purchase several vacuum cleaners in the past few years. The last one was a lovely Dyson, which was difficult to care for. Our handyman was able to unclog Charlie’s hair, so we gave it to him and bought another simpler machine.

When I was a girl, my Grandmother did not have a vacuum cleaner. We used a Bissell carpet sweeper, and she hung smaller rugs on a line and beat the dust out. Auntie had a vac, and taught me to sweep over each area 7 times. (She may have taught me to chew my food 30 times since that was a new fad in the ’30s, brought about by Dr. Kellogg of corn flake fame. We have had many vacuum cleaners through the years, including a heavy and expensive Kirby, which came our way when I bought it from a door-to-door salesman. It was the best one we ever had, but I was a lot stronger in those days.

To solve the seriousness of our problem, I also bought a tool called a “Furminator” to brush Charlie. It worked fine, but I neglected to use it during a period of malaise. It somehow disappeared, so I have purchased another. I will hide this in a better place.

“A Gentle Descent” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This painting has absolutely nothing to do with dog hair, but it was relaxation after all the vacuuming. The mountains are gently draining a spring thaw into a deep, dark and mysterious pool. To give the sky some tactile interest, I sprinkled canning salt over a coat of paint.