Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Taste Memories

My culinary roots are divided between the American South, and the Finger Lakes region of Northern New York State.

My maternal great grandmother came from farm folk in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  It was a harsh and a make-due existence.  She could recall a time during the Civil War, when hungry Union soldiers marched onto the farm looking for food.  Luckily her mother had hidden a ham, the last food her starving family owned, under the home’s floor boards.   Granny, as I called her, grew her own vegetables and fruit (the surplus she sold to the wealthy people in town), kept her pantry full of homemade preserves and pickles, and butchered her own chickens and pigs.  She was also famous for miles around for her signature marble cake. 

My first culinary venture nearly ended in disaster. One Christmas, Santa gave me a tiny electric toy stove.  I enthusiastically whipped up a batch of scrambled eggs which I fed to my baby brother.  Unfortunately, the eggs were raw, and my little brother screamed for days as if I had tried to poison him!

Thankfully, my Grandmother stepped in, and became my spirit guide to all the mysteries of cooking.  From measuring, sifting, stirring and timing – I learned it all.  And that year, my miniature cherry pies sold out at the annual church Strawberry festival.

Summer was the time for berry picking in the woods.   When we got home, Grandma would always make a blackberry roll, which she steamed in cheesecloth on the top of the stove.  I could hardly wait for it to cool.

Come fall, the New York Finger Lakes region would be dotted with small farm stands.   Tart and crisp native apples, Concord and Niagara table grapes, and gallons of sweet apple cider were something to savor. 

Spring would bring a family pilgrimage back to Virginia.   Aunt Lois lived in Richmond, VA, and was a true Southern hostess.  Her big house was always filled with succulent food aromas, and at each meal her table beautifully set.  The memory of her homemade biscuits (based on a secret family recipe), filled with paper thin slices of Smithfield ham, makes my mouth water.  And there were always visits to the old Mixing Bowl bakery for their famous Sally Lund bread and Seven Layer cake.  Aunt Lois worked for the Virginia Travel Council, and her personal claim to fame was appearing on a television show in NYC with James Beard, and presenting him with a Smithfield ham.   Aunt Lois was also famous in our family for introducing us to avocado as used in a salad with grapefruit.  Years later, at my rehearsal dinner which she hosted, she bravely served my soon-to-be husband’s family, salmon mousse.

My mother’s culinary skills were less refined, and more on the ready–made side.   Many nights we dined on tin-foil dinners or charred cube steak.  Casseroles were her greatest kitchen efforts, but these were mainly reserved for dinner parties with friends.  We greedily looked forward to the leftovers.  My own taste was equally unrefined.  For instance, one summer each day of Girl Scout camp my lunch consisted of a tuna fish sandwich on white Sunbeam bread, a bag of potatoes chips and lemonade, all packed in my official GS lunchbox and thermos.

Nancy Lewis, my mother’s best friend, a graduate of the Cornell School of Home Economics, had worked as a food demonstrator at the New York World’s Fair in the French’s Food Pavilion.  On picnics and at meals at her house she experimented on us.  We did not know what to make of this gourmet fare loaded with some strange spices and plenty of French’s mustard.  Poor lady, she was way before her time.

My father’s business partner was an old bachelor, and very lonely.  Each week he took us out to dinner with him.  The destination was often a church supper in one of the local towns.  The food was good, the lines were long, and we would often have to sit and wait patiently with the mostly older folks in the church sanctuary.  We would be taunted by the delicious aromas coming from the dining room.  But the wait would be well worth it when we finally spied the vast array of wedges of homemade pies – which always made for a difficult choice.  Sometimes, Mr. Fink would take us to fancy local restaurants with real white linen tablecloths. Minding our manners, we sampled such unknown dishes as shrub, prime rib au jus or French Silk pie.

Our family vacation in Europe was full of food firsts - my first croissant and my first bottle of mineral water.  But one dinner at the Hotel de La Poste in Vezelay France topped it all.  My brother and I watched in wide-eyed amazement as the elegant French lady at the next table lustily devoured a plate of big juicy snails!  I vowed then and there, to never never eat a snail.  That, of course, was a vow that I did not keep.

When my own children were little, we had a weekly ritual of making bread.  They particularly enjoyed punching the dough down, and braiding the three pieces together.   Influenced by the writer Euell Gibbons, I became a bit of a food forager, and would drag the children through the local fields in search of wild edible food.

I guess I would call myself a “foodie”.  For the past ten years, I have eaten my way around the world, but along the way I have done far less cooking.   I am anxious to rediscover the foods, flavors and tastes of my family’s culinary history.  I look forward to taking time to browse through Aunt Lois’s recipe clipping file and to reading the handwritten recipe book of my paternal Grandmother (who I never knew).  I know I will learn more about those who have gone before me, and about myself. 

I am a great supporter of the concept of “Farm to Table”, and becoming acquainted with the regional foods and cuisine of the Pacific Northwest is on my to do list.  I am also intrigued and inspired by the new crop of Culinary Food and Lifestyle bloggers - who seamlessly integrate cooking, photography and styling with social media. 


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Eve Ladies Night Out

The Ladies of the Flinders Sewing Circle on one of their regular Pub Crawls.  You know who you are!

Happy New Years,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Geography Lesson

As a little girl in Upstate New York, I often dreamed of travelling to faraway places. These dreams were fueled by stories of my family’s travel adventures. One ancestor was a missionary in 19th century Turkey, where he and his wife ran an orphanage for Armenian girls. Another, my grandfather, was a scientist who made research expeditions the length and breadth of Africa studying the Fruit fly. Then there was my father, who spent most of World War II in Delhi India, as a quartermaster in the Army, supplying the Burma trail.

 I loved nothing better than going up to the attic of our house, and digging through old trunks full of ancient photographs and mementos from these family adventures. My father had also given me his childhood collections of stamps and postcards. The bold colors and designs of the stamps from colonial Africa especially intrigued me. On rainy days, I used to entertain the neighborhood kids with shows of postcard images projected on the attic walls from my father’s old magic lantern. At school, during show and tell, I often demonstrated how to drape an Indian sari and a turban.

So when I saw the details of an online course in Travel Geography from a local community college, I was excited at the opportunity to learn more about these parts of the world, and to retrace the steps of my ancestors.

Next Stop - Africa and Asia,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bunnies, Bunnies and More Bunnies!

It's Easter, and everywhere you look there are Bunnies and Rabbits gathering for the celebration.

All this reminds me of our time living in the countryside of Belgium.  A favorite pastime was watching the local Belgian hares happily dancing and grazing on the lawn of our home.  This was not a good sight to our landlord, but for us these persistent visitors provided many happy hours of viewing.

Sending Love and Easter Bouquets to Bunnies, (both human and animal), everywhere.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Joy to the World

Peace and Happiness to all!


Monday, February 4, 2013

Out of the Fog...Into the Mist

From Carmel on California's Monterey Peninsula, our little convoy headed out for Central Oregon.  Accompanied by our trusty GPS, and walkie-talkies, we were three vehicles in all. Out front in the lead Uhaul truck was "Grey Wolf"; followed by "Hawkeye" in the second truck; and in the last car - moi aka "Pocahantas".  We travelled North on Route 101, through winding California redwood forests, beside the rocky Oregon coast, and followed the Umpqua river to our new encampment.

Should you find yourself some evening at the Mission Ranch in Carmel, CA, ask the pianist to "Play Misty" for Me.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the Trail Again!

Northward Ho the Wagons,
Soon we'll packing up all our earthly goods, and heading across the pass to Oregon.  There, we'll be de-camping in the Salem/Portland area, site of our new home grounds. The stories and adventures continue in the New Year.
May your path be safe and happy this Holiday Season,