Imagining

Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota
The view I imagine while stuck in traffic.  Image: Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0.

I popped Mari’s well-worn CD of Anne of Green Gables into the car stereo this morning and from the first lines was whisked to a comfortable home in my memory. My mom bought this book for me when I traveled with my aunt at the age of 9. Once I got through the wordy descriptions in the first page, I was hooked. I finished it and immediately began reading it again. I read the series countless times over the years, continuing to read it into adulthood on occasion. The books have always been an escape for me; I recall taking an Anne book and my lunch to a park near my engineering job, sitting under a tree and reading to forget work stress for a while.

It was a pleasant way to spend the commute – listening to L.M. Montgomery’s loving descriptions of the natural beauty of Avonlea, every sentence a mark of her craft. The activities of the characters were a reminder of the world pre-technology. Anne fantasized about living near a babbling brook and spending the night in a wild cherry tree; she didn’t spend all her hours with earbuds and a smartphone. Rachel Lynde observed everything that happened in the neighborhood because she wasn’t parked in front of a TV. An 8-mile horse-driven buggy drive was a pleasure, not a time-sucking chore as it can be today in a much faster car. I’m sure there will be a million more examples; I’m only on chapter 2.

For many years, it was my fantasy to live far from the bustle of cities and suburbs, in a country cottage with a large garden and abundant physical and mental space. My parents moved to such a place when I was in college, and on my occasional visits I loved the sounds of the owls at night and roosters and cows early in the morning, the always changing landscapes of the Shenandoah foothills, and the lack of busy-ness. Oh, there was lots to do: painting outbuildings, harvesting berries, making jam, weeding, hanging laundry, painting the long stretches of fences – but there was also time to climb into the hills and marvel at the views, to enjoy a visit with the sociable barn cat, or to just think. For about a decade until upkeep became too much work for my aging parents, it was a much-loved refuge for me from the various cities in which I lived.

When, as of late, I begin to feel a real need for that refuge, I know that I need to step back and reconsider commitments. When home feels less like a cabin and more like a hotel, I know I am too busy. Recently, the fantasies of moving to the country resurfaced, and I asked myself why. It’s been a busy few weeks back to work and school, and we’re all still adjusting: we will adjust. I have given myself the position of always-willing-to-drive mother for Mari and her friends; while this can take a lot of time, there are benefits, such as knowing they are all safe, and the opportunities for conversation in the car. This is also temporary and will likely ease by the end of the winter; after her friends have navigated Minnesota winter roads, I will be more likely to consider them safe drivers.

When I was finishing my grad degree, I realized I had always been waiting for the next stage. As a young child, like many kids, I always wanted to be older. In high school, I couldn’t wait to get to college. The rapid, always-changing pace of college suited me, but I was eager to finish. The summer job I had between college and grad school was perfect in that within a few weeks I was ready to be a student again. And then I was done — I moved across the country and I was on my own… to discover that the grass was not as green as I had expected.  After a couple of years I just wanted out of the corporate world. I realized that there was always something to be finished, always something new to begin that probably wasn’t going to match my expectations.

The stress of this time will pass, and I will have some fond memories of it. Doing what I can now to make each day enjoyable for all of us will give us each a better time now and better memories in the future. And part of making every day better for all of us means giving myself more breaks.

A year ago I read the idea of a “20-minute daily vacation” in Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock.  It’s time to implement it!

Zucchini Pancakes

pancakes on seltmann weiden.JPG

My mom and I both enjoy cooking and cookbooks alike, and as our elders have passed, their cookbooks have found a new home on her shelves or mine.  Today’s pancakes were modified from the “Favorite Pancakes” in the 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, courtesy of my maternal grandmother.

Zucchini Pancakes
(Makes about 12 3″ pancakes)

1 egg
1 1/4 c sour milk
2 T canola oil
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t sugar
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 c shredded zucchini, dried on a towel

Beat egg well, then beat in milk and oil.  On top of liquid ingredients, add flour through nutmeg, then stir the dry ingredients together gently.  Mix dry and wet ingredients and then stir in shredded zucchini.  Cook on hot, oiled griddle or skillet.

My mom learned about Sammeltassen from my Oma, her mother-in-law: individual place settings for coffee from assorted patterns, with a cup, saucer, and dessert plate from each.  It was always fun for me to choose the plate on which I would eat from Oma’s china cabinet.  I think this particular plate survived more household moves than its cup and saucer.  The Sammeltassen is making its way to my house now, as my parents slowly downsize, and although I do not have the energy to use dishes that require hand washing on a daily basis, I do pull them out fairly regularly.  I don’t know if Mari will have fond memories of them, but I hope that she will.  I’m one of the few remaining people who remember my Oma’s kitchen, but I think of her every day as I work in my kitchen, and I hope to one day observe Mari continuing those traditions in her own home.

Shared with Weekend Cooking

Zucchini Season

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Image by Sh2587 from Pixabay

It hasn’t been a great year for my garden. Although the farmers market tables are thankfully, as always, overflowing with beautiful produce, my garden suffered from our travels and unusual weather. Too cold for the tomatoes, too wet for the peas, but always, no matter what the weather, just right for zucchini.

Zucchini is rarely the star of anything. I love roasted zucchini, but Mari and Thom require that zucchini be dressed up or disguised. Of course, they both love zucchini bread, which tastes as good as anything laden with sugar and cinnamon. Most of the zucchini from our garden ends up in savory meals, but I have so many this year that I’ll probably bake some chocolate zucchini muffins and zucchini cornbread this weekend.

Our Savory Meals Featuring or Disguising Zucchini

Chili
Enchiladas
Vegetable Pancakes with Soup
Veggie Burgers & Coleslaw(salt zucchini and press out liquid before adding to coleslaw)
Frittata (precook zucchini)
Zucchini Pizzas (with roasted zucchini slices as “crust”)
Lasagna
Curries
Polenta with roasted vegetables and cheese
Potatoes or pastry with spinach, feta, and zucchini

What are you doing with your garden produce?

We are all ephemeral

Mertensia_virginica_-_Virginia_Bluebells
Virginia bluebells by Fritzflohrreynolds,CC BY-SA 3.0

My mom and her two surviving siblings live in different states from me and from  each other, but last weekend we were all together in the same place for the first time in about 4 years.  My uncle, the youngest among them, was clearly shaken by how the years have affected his sisters, and resolved to make more of an effort to travel.

Time is fleeting. Everything is temporary.

A friend has been fighting a particularly deadly cancer for a couple of years, and I thought she had beaten it back.  But today a package arrived in the mail that worries me deeply.  It contained memorabilia of the connection that we share, and no note.

More reasons to be mindful of every day, put away the phone, prioritize time spent with loved ones and doing activities that bring goals closer to fruition.

Cold Chocolate for Summer

Images from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,”
copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Had I been born a century earlier, I think the odds are high I’d have been a home economist rather than an engineer.   My aunt, who had a chocolate party for her retirement and is the only other member of the family who really understands my love of chocolate, shared with me this tiny booklet, written by several home economists of the 1920s.  I enjoyed the simplicity and inventiveness of the recipes and was surprised by the lavish colorful illustrations in a small pamphlet of that vintage.  Did you know that cocoa nibs were available 90 years ago?

Everyone knows hot chocolate, but I have to say that when I saw the simple instructions for Iced Cocoa, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  A quick search found plenty of recipes, and, of course, it’s similar to but less rich than modern chocolate milk, but I like this version for its simplicity.  The ingredients are as written in the 1928 booklet, but instructions have been edited for brevity.

Hot or Iced Cocoa

4 T cocoa
2-4 T sugar
few grains salt
1 c cold water
3 c milk

Add cocoa and water to saucepan and stir while heating until smooth.  Boil about 2 minutes, then add other ingredients.  Heat until foamy, then beat well and serve.  Vanilla or cinnamon may be added prior to serving.

For iced cocoa, prepare hot cocoa in advance and chill, then serve over cracked ice in tall gasses, garnished with whipped cream if desired.

 

There’s also a cocoa syrup recipe that can be used in a variety of ways for summer beverages.  I haven’t tried this yet, but think the quantity of sugar is probably at least double the necessary amount since the ratio of sugar to cocoa is 4 times the above recipe.

Baker’s Breakfast Cocoa Syrup

1/2 c cocoa
1 c cold water
1/8 t salt
2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cook cocoa and water together, stirring until smooth.  When the mixture begins to boil, stir in sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.  Boil 3 minutes and add vanilla.  Refrigerate.

Chocolate Float:  To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 6 oz carbonated water and stir well.  Add cracked ice and top with whipped cream.

Frosted Chocolate: To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 4 oz milk and 1/4 c ice cream.  Add carbonated water.

Chocolate Milk Shake: Add to a glass jar 1.5 T cocoa syrup, 8 oz milk, and cracked ice.  Shake well.  (Very different from our modern definition of milkshake, but now the name makes sense!)

No variation was provided for mocha, but the rule seems to be 1.5T syrup to 8oz liquid.  Recipes from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,” copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Shared with Weekend Cooking.