Friday, November 27, 2009

The Perfect Pie Crust

I have made two pie crusts that were perfect. The first time was perhaps 15 years ago, when I was feeling adventurous and reckless. Uhhh.... make that 20 years ago.

A friend had raised a couple of pigs. We bought one and they hauled the pigs to the meat processor and a week or so later we picked up the wrapped meat and brought it home. Including the head and all of the fat.

At that time Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living”was my go-to source for learning how to live in the country. The book was incredibly useful for learning how to do country stuff. I followed her instructions for making head cheese. It was quite good. And then I rendered the fat, which I was going to use to make soap, also following her directions. 

By then we had already made the decision to stop using shortening to cook with, and so any pie crust I made was either with oil--which was usually a disaster--or I just bought it pre-made from the store; of course, these pie shells were made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, but at least I didn’t have to keep a can of the nasty stuff around the house.

After a couple of days of bubbling fat in the pots, I had all of this creamy white lard and Thanksgiving was approaching and it was time to make the annual pie, and I thought, oh what the heck, it’s not going to kill us....

So I used a glop of the homemade lard to make the pie. I was stunned a how wonderful that crust was. But, I never used lard or shortening again.... until yesterday. We weren’t going to have pie at all – just “pumpkin custard” but then at the last minute we changed our minds and so I used some of the lard I had bought to make suet cakes for the birds.

And so the second time one of my homemade pie crusts came out perfect. The temptation to use the lard the next time a pie is requested is overwhelming. It is probably a good thing we don’t have pie very often.

The soap was not entirely successful, by the way. Although I tried hard to follow the directions, I failed to do something right, and some of the cakes of soap retained bubbles of liquid lye, which caused some excitement during a shower. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


One of the things I am most thankful for this year is the wonderful people my younger brothers and sister grew up to be. 

The oldest boy frequently amazes me. I had always thought of him as being a rather sober serious person, but I am now realizing how very funny he really is.

And indeed he can be serious - he gave a powerful eulogy at our mother's memorial service, dropping names like Augustine and Blaise Pascal into his speech as he painted a verbal portrait of her in his summary of her life and what she meant to us.

And then, well, there is the goofy side....

Just about every time we have gathered for a family photograph, at least one of the shots has me with my mouth wide open, laughing hysterically....

at something he is doing....

And here we are again, with a cousin who I have not seen in a very long time who came for the service.

I am so thankful for the younger boy. He has a tender, compassionate heart. I am so thankful for all the things he has done for dad and mom over the years, how he continues to look after our dad now that he is alone, and how often he uses his skills as a plumber and maintenance man to take care of things for him around the house.

And here he is making a funny face while doing the dishes at the recent party he and his wife hosted at their house for our father's 85th birthday. Sulking, apparently, because he has to do all the work. 

When it comes to my sister, well.... I can hardly come up with the words to describe how much I love this woman and how much she means to me, and how thankful I am she arrived on the scene. I forgave her a long time ago for getting into my nail polish and Evening in Paris perfume when she 4 years old and I was 13. She helps my father keep the house clean, she plants flowers in the yard and takes care of them, and she helps him with paying the bills and other little jobs around the house. She did an amazing job organizing our mother's memorial service.

But my thankfulness goes beyond just my brothers and sister. I am acutely aware of the people they married and brought into our family, and how important these people have become, and I am most thankful for the choices my brothers and sisters made. 

One friend I used to have married a man who was a member of a large family of sons, and she often shared stories of unpleasant things that happened at these large family gatherings where enmity was rife among the brothers and their various spouses and occasionally resulting fistfights. And just last Sunday, our pastor asked for special prayers for their safety on Thanksgiving day because they were going to her daughter's house for dinner, and she was afraid of one of the in-law's who is really an out-law - emotionally volatile, violent, abusive to his wife and children, and a drug user.

I am thankful my extended family is not like that. My mother was acutely aware of the trouble that can brew between children and their spouses, and when a bit of trouble seemed to be brewing, she would say, "We are not having that in our family." None of these people are perfect, but they have all worked very hard to maintain harmonious relationships. There is no sense of impending dread at the thought of being at a family gathering.

I have two amazing sisters-in-law....

and here they are sitting on each side of my sister and me.

And there is a wonderful brother in law as well, here whining because we wouldn't let him pretend to cheat at Kings in the Corner.

All of these relatives by marriage showed their true mettle when our mother became ill. They treated her as they would their own mother, and were an immense blessing to her and my dad.

Finally, of course, I am thankful for the life my mother. About 4 weeks before she died, she wrote to a woman she has known for at least 50 years...

I'm glad that God has created a variety of everything and He wants me to be like He created me to be. I don't have to try to be like somebody else to please Him! There is a variety of seasons in our lives, and in each one we grow, learn, and change. I'm preparing to "move on" into the first step of heavenly and eternal life! Some of the earthly treasures I've collected have already gone on ahead of me and will be there to greet me. Others, like you, will be arriving a little later and what a time of rejoicing that will be!!

Yes indeed, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Deer camp

Before the Europeans came and ruined everything for them, various groups of Native Americans used this area of the state as a common hunting ground. The Osage from mid-Northern Missouri was a large and powerful tribe that had great influence here, but tribes from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and East Texas also used the area. Deer, turkey, and other wild game were very plentiful. The Indians set up temporary camps, hunted the animals, and preserved the meat before returning home. Just as important were the rocks here -- just ask any one who tries to farm this land or plant a garden—which they fashioned into tools and weapons.

The tradition of setting up a deer camp for hunting continues. The opening weekend of the all-comers deer hunt in Missouri was probably, at least in this area, the warmest weekend on record. For the first time in his life, our son was invited to go hunting. Some of my uncles hunted, and the LOML’s father hunted in Colorado, but the men in my immediate family and the LOML do not hunt, and so our son never had the father-child hunting experience that is so common in this area. The hunting tradition here is not male-dominated. Many women and their daughters also hunt, but he lucked out again. I have no problem killing a farm animal to eat it, but I am not a hunter of wild game, so I never took him into the woods either.

Earlier in the Fall he was invited to go hunting with a friend. He went to the Hunter Safety Course, he bought his hunting license and a deer tag, and he arranged to buy a gun. Several times in early Fall, they went to the site where they would be hunting and cleaned up the camp. Finally, last weekend he went on his first deer hunt with the friend and Tony, our neighbor who also brought his young teenaged son. He left very early on Saturday morning and came home Sunday morning.

I was very excited for him to be able to go. I did not expect that he would actually shoot a deer and kill it, I was just happy for him to have the experience of bonding with these other men at the deer camp.

What actually happened was that his friend went for a short walk in the woods, got our boy situated where he was to wait for deer to walk by, then returned to the camp and began drinking. He mostly drank the entire time. Tony drank a little too, but not like the other man. I can’t think of anything more lethal than semi-drunk men staggering around the wood with high-powered rifles.

Our son does not drink, so he did not have a very good time with his beer-guzzling hunting friend. Our son had never been hunting before, so he did a few things that deer hunters are not supposed to do. Instead of being educated then about proper hunting techniques, he got a telephone call the next day and was criticized after the fact for all these mistakes.

Two men from church were supposed to take him hunting today, but they both shot deer and used their deer tags; however, they graciously allowed our son to hunt on the land their land and bring another person with him. He has no one to go with him today, but tomorrow, he will go out with another man from his work who will not be drinking and who will treat him with a bit more kindness.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Memory Rollover

Every once in a while a certain song, or a picture, or a current event will illuminate a memory that is not forgotten, just not thought about very often. I got such a flashback when I was visiting with my dad.

In the summer of 1962, when I was shortly to become 13 years old, my father's sisters Vera (Uncle Bud) and Theresa (Uncle Bob) decided to take their children (Vera's, 3, Theresa's, 2) on a road trip from northern California to Seattle to see the World's Fair. Vera invited me to come because her oldest daughter Teri is a little more a year older then me (aaahh, what's a few months between cousins). We had a very good cousin relationship then and indeed, even now, she is one of the dearest people in my life, all these many years later.

I believe the airplane ticket for me to fly from Los Angeles to Sacramento, the nearest airport, was about $40 (which seemed a staggering amount back then). I had saved a bunch of money in my piggy bank, and so I was able to go.

I remember bits and pieces of that trip. I remember we visited a cheese factory and a brewery, and sand dunes on the Oregon coast. While we were camped outside of Seattle, we saw big slugs in the rainforest, and I fell into some stinging nettles, and yep, they really did sting. We went up on the Space Needle, I ate a Belgian waffle, which was an amazing treat, bought from a vendor at the World's Fair. I remember my Uncle Bud buying a malt at a restaurant in which he instructed the waitress to add cherry to it as well. I think it was a chocolate cherry malt. Or may be it was a "cherry soda." (help me Teri!) Regardless, no one in my family had ever done anything so bold. I also remember falling asleep in the back seat of Uncle Bud's new car, which cousin Richard (son of Bob and Theresa) says was a gorgeous Mercury station wagon, with gum in my mouth. It fell out of my mouth, and got all over the seat and he was furious with me.

I remember riding on a ferry through the islands off the coast of Washington and British Columbia, and getting a little seasick.

The song "Monster Mash" was popular that summer and we heard it over and over and over on the radio as we travelled -- at least Teri and I did, not sure about what they were listening to in Theresa's car.

But one of the things that I remember being the most fun was when the odometer in Aunt Theresa and Uncle Bob's car turned over from 99999 to 100,000. My cousin Richard, their oldest son and cousin I am becoming reacquainted with after a very long time, says it was a 1956 Mercury, and he remembers that event too. That's because the caravan stopped, and everybody in Aunt Vera's car who could cram into Aunt Theresa's car did so, and we crept down the highway laughing hysterically and all of us trying to see the exact moment when the odometer changed.

It was such fun.

Things were a bit quieter a few weeks ago in my dad's car as we were driving along on our way to eat lunch. Before we left the house, he said, "The odometer should turn to 100,000 today." And indeed it was about to. It conveniently began inching toward 100,000 while we were stopped...

And closer.....

And it then finally tipped over while we were in the midst of traffic on the busy thoroughfare....


This time  there weren't 6 giggling children and four adults crammed into a car. Just me and him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Journey of 1000 Miles

I am a member of Bookcrossings,  an organization that promotes recycling paperback books by leaving them in public places for other people to pick up and read.

A few weeks ago, my cousin in Washington, DC, sent me a Bookcrossings book that he had received, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, by Lilian Jackson Braun, complete with the appropriate Bookcrossing stickers. I knew I was going to write about Bookcrossings and getting this book and liberating it, but I neglected to photograph the book, not thinking too clearly at the time.

I read it just before I left for California, and I knew I definitely did not want to keep it, so I decided to take it along with me and leave it at one of the airports. At that point, the book's journey had taken it at least 2300 miles; who knows where it had been before then.

Aside from giving books to the Thrift Store to sell, I have liberated books before -- the last time I traveled in July, I left a copy of the paperback, Dr Metzger's Dog, by Thomas Perry at the Orange County airport.

After I reached the gate at Los Angeles International for the return trip flight to Dallas Ft/Worth, I sat the book the "end table" next to where I was sitting (once again forgetting to take a picture of it) and then got up to put some water in my bottle. When I returned to the seat, a woman was reading the book.

The book came to me in the Midwest from the East, then travelled to the West Coast, and now I wonder where it will end up. Where was her home? I almost approached her to find out - in fact, I am not usually shy at all about talking to strangers, But for some reason I let inertia take over, and before I could talk myself into an interview with her...

she got up and walked away, the book peeking out of the top of her bag.

I didn't see her again. I don't know if she was on the flight to Dallas/Ft Worth, but I think I would remember that bright purple outfit.

So, book where are you? Back East again? North, South? I did not like the book very much, but even so, I wish it well on its journey.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Luggage That Moves Itself

Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has created a most amazing character - a wooden box called the Luggage - which appears several times in the Discworld novels that feature Rincewind the Wizard. The Luggage is alive, it has hundreds of little legs, it is slavishly dedicated to its owner, and it follows Rincewind wherever he goes, even to hell and back.

Modern travelers can buy luggage with wheels so that they can pull it behind or push it in front, but they don't have quite as much luck keeping their luggage with them. It can and does often go missing.

But the last two people to board the commuter jet at Dallas/Ft Worth on Wednesday for the trip to Springfield, who sat behind me at the very back of the plane, each had a carry-on that carried itself on. They caused quite a stir among the passengers as they came down the aisle and arranged the carry-ons under their seats. 

"They can't bring them on the plane!" one said. "Oh yes they can," said the flight attendant.

These carry-ons were two drug-sniffing dogs on their way home from the Dominican Republic with their handlers for more training.

One was a chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever, and this dog, Kito, a Golden Retriever mix..

They were excellent passengers, although the handler explained they had been given sedatives to help keep them calm. Even so, toward the end of the flight, I felt a tail hitting my foot.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Wall Came Tumblin' Down...

According to a program I was watching the other night about chocolate, pirates once seized a ship headed for Spain expecting to find gold or silver in the hold. Instead they found what looked like dried rabbit droppings. They burned the cargo, not realizing that they were burning cocoa beans that were worth their weight in silver back in Spain.

Sometimes I wonder if a stranger coming into my house would recognize one of the most valuable things that I own, which is sitting in plain sight on one my bookshelves.

For Christmas in 1989 I received in the mail a small package from Germany. It came from Elli, a woman who started out as a customer of our mail order business, morphed into a translator of our materials into German, and in the process became a friend.

She sent some wonderful chocolate, a cassette tape of German Christmas carols, and in a small box nestled in cotton, a small piece of concrete painted orange on one side. I was somewhat puzzled by this painted concrete, until I read the note.

A piece of the Berlin Wall.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall ceased to be an official barrier between East and West Berlin, a prelude to the reunification a year later of the country that had been divided since the close of WW II.

The images of German citizens on the wall celebrating their freedom stick in the mind similar to the image of Nelson Mandela leaving prison in South Africa. They began attacking the wall, and eventually crews came to dismantle it. Not quite as neat and efficient a Joshua marching the Israelites around the walls of Jericho, but to me every bit as much a miracle.

For Elli this piece of concrete had deep symbolic meaning, because it was her country in which history was being made. I was deeply touched that she thought to send it to me.

Since 1989 it has sat on the bookshelf, propped up against my battered collection paperback books.

To the casual eye, just a bit of rubble that likely would quickly be thrown away; for me, a small symbol of freedom of immense value.

Sometimes people are confined by internal prisons of their own making, sometimes they are victimized by external prisons of concrete erected by others; and sometimes--just sometimes--those prisons are dismantled.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Twosie Balls

My folks id not feel comfortable using in front of their children the words other people used to talk about bodily functions involving the toilet. They did not say urinate or defecate, or pee or poop, and most definitely none of coarser or the even worse four-letter words.

Instead, we went "number one" - or "onsies" -- or "number two" - "twosies". And of course, in our minds, those words became the equivalent of the four-letter variety and our response was usually furtive giggling when anyone innocently said those words in another context, such as hopscotch.

Our folks have an old-fashioned metal food grinder that clamps to the counter, with a hopper in the top and an auger and discs with different sized holes. When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was help dad grind cranberries, oranges, and apples for the Thanksgiving Day dinner relish. The cranberries made a wonderful popping sound.

Then he found a recipe for a very healthy confection consisting of dried dates, figs, prunes, and walnuts, mixed with a little orange juice and rolled into balls, and then the balls were rolled into powdered sugar. They looked a lot like... you know what... and we all called them twosie balls.

I hadn't thought about twosie balls for a long time until I happened across a similar sounding recipe on A Vision Splendid, another blog I enojy.

I made her recipe, except I fashioned it into balls rather than square slices. I agree with her assessment: very tasty indeed.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I'll fly away.... this morning

In a few minutes we will be leaving in the pre-dawn darkness for the trip to the airport in Springfield and I will be flying away to Los Angeles to celebrate the life of my mother, who symbolically flew away on Oct. 13. This time I will only have to negotiate the Dallas/Ft Worth airport.

I won't have internet access to the blog from my dad's house, but thanks to the magic of "scheduled posting," there will be a few installments here over the next week.

I'll be back!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I do strange things when trying to multitask

One of several things I have noticed about getting older is that I cannot so easily do more than one thing at a time without messing one or more of those things up somehow. I have recently been exchanging e-mails with these two women, Rhonda and Sue, who came to visit my father...

and had their photo taken standing in front of his truck.

That truck has quite a history. I began to learn to drive in it, learning how to operate a clutch and the gears, with my dad teaching me, but I think I made him a little crazy -- I know I made him a little crazy (and we were just in the parking lot of a big factory). Eventually my mother took over, bless her heart.

But the best memories are that when we were younger, in high school, these two were often among the group of kids my dad would invite to hop in the back of the truck on a Saturday for a trip to the beach.

Sue passed on to me a recipe for wonderful pumpkin soup that she says her boss gave her. I guess reading about soup on his blog is perhaps a bit tiresome, but just one more soup recipe for a while and I'll give it a rest. Promise.

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

2 lbs of pumpkin or other winter squash
2 tbsp of unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic minced
6 inches of ginger peeled and minced (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 stalk of celery finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopper
1 yellow onion finely chopped
4 cups of chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a soup pot and add the onion, garlic, ginger, celery and the carrot. Saute for about ten minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.
2. Skin the pumpkin (or squash) and cut into cubes about 1 inch square.
3. Add the cut pumpkin and chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer until the pumpkin is soft.
5. Let the mixture cool and then put in a blender or food process to puree.
6. Re-heat to serve.

So, there I was at the kitchen counter dishing up my lunch and ladling pumpkin soup into my bowl -- and at the same time talking to the LOML who was sitting at the table eating his lunch -- and I reached in the pot, got a scoop of soup, turned to say something to him, and then dumped it into the dishwater that he had prepared to wash the dishes after lunch.