Out With the Old? Not so fast…2018 version.

Yes, it’s a new year, so in with the new…but not without another shout out to some “old” that’s coming with me into 2019.

Big Island Candies
Oh. My. God. Crack in cellophane wrappers. If you are EVER purchasing a lovely giftMika Mints basket to send, or in the mood to treat yourself and your family, look nowhere else. Not a huge sweets person, I can usually sample and leave alone. Not with Big Island Candies. My introduction began with the Mika Chocolates: These soft nibbles feature a dark-chocolate coating on the outside, and on the inside, a smooth, lightly whipped blend of dark and milk chocolate, cream and butter, and finally, a cooling touch of mint flavor. They are all that and more. You won’t find a better chocolate mint.  I next became enslaved by the Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee, followed by the Milk and Dark Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts.  But no need to stop there…Big Island Candies also has Signature Shortbread cookies,  brownies, and a number of other treats. Don’t take my word for it…experience these treats for yourself. https://www.bigislandcandies.com/

Bissell Powertrak Compact Vacuum
One might imagine I’m a cleaning nut with this addition, but the reverse is true. I like a clean space, but just about anything else can pull my attention away from cleaning.  This little vacuum encourages me back to the task because it’s powerful enough to be effective, so light I don’t mind going up and down stairs with it, and super easy to use and maintain. I bought it for around $60, and it boasts cheery lime green accents! A winner from Bissell.  The Bissell says this little number is no longer available, but it is at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Snatch it up… Bissell Powertrak

Louise Penny
If you have not been introduced to award-winning bestselling author Louise Penny, here are the basics: A Canadian author of mystery novels set in the Canadian province of Quebec centred on the work of francophone Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.
If there’s one thing I have done my entire life, reading is it. After spending my entire childhood focused on reading, I majored in it in college. Reading remains my biggest joy and Louise Penny is my favorite author. Interesting, because I’m only a sometime mystery reader, but Louise is so much more than a mystery writer. Her revelations regarding character, relationships, philosophy, and psychology set against the haunting backdrop of  snow-covered Canadian woods make her a literary treasure as well as a popular one. She belonged on this list last year; I’m sure she’ll belong on this list next year. https://www.louisepenny.com/

Yes, those little packets of seasonings and ingredients for tasty food fast. Roast turkey is a top favorite meal in my family, particularly in November and December.  My home-made gravy is considered part of the tradition, but what my family didn’t know was that I was relying on a natural seasoning packet that isn’t available anymore. In steps Knorr’s Turkey Gravy packet to save the day, and we’re back in business. In 2019, I plan to increase my supply of Knorr’s helpers to have on hand for a last-minute meal.  https://www.knorr.com/us/en/home.html

Blanket Scarves
Days are cold in winter in New England, and increasing years can bring increasing sensitivity to temperature. A dear friend introduced me to the luxury of blanket scarves when she returned from a trip to Ireland and gave me a royal blue wool scarf/shawl. Perhaps the term blanket scarf wasn’t in use then, and perhaps I’m using the term a bit loosely, as a true blanket scarf is probably more of a square or rectangle that can be used like a small throw, or folded to be used as a scarf.  Whatever the exact dimensions, anyone who gets chilly in winter, or in air conditioning, would benefit from these cozy additions to be worn around the neck, the shoulders, or wrapped around legs and feet. I have three at this point, and decided my mother-in-law needed one for her birthday this year. A MUST for plane travel…

Take good care of yourself in the new year!



Why Are Restaurants Trying To Kill Us?

salmonI met my mother and sister for lunch recently. They live about an hour away, but there’s a large shopping area between us. We have a choice of several restaurants, but I like one in particular because their food seems healthier. And you can ask for nutrition data, which they’ll gladly bring you. On one sheet, in teeny tiny type, but at least it’s available. Like all restaurants, you have to be careful not to overeat the bread or sop up half a cup of olive oil with it. This time they had a new menu item, Sesame Hoisin Salmon salad. Spinach, snap peas, mango, Napa cabbage, pickled ginger, and shaved carrots. Wow! Cabbage and carrots, spinach and snap peas! Just reading it made me feel healthy. Then there was the salmon, “grilled and lacquered with a sesame hoisin glaze.” Lacquered brought up images of shiny furniture, but hey, grilled fish is good! Omegas! And finally, “orange-sesame dressing.” No mention of oil there, or cheese, so that also sounded light. Sign me up! I ordered that salad and ate every bit of it. It was delicious. It didn’t come with any bread — because I’d already had a third of what they brought to the table to begin with — so I really felt like I’d done myself a favor with my choice.

Then I went home and looked up the nutrition data for my lovely salmon salad. WHAT? Eight hundred and seventy calories! How is that bleeping possible? Did they inject the salmon with straight-up FAT? And thirty-two grams of sugar? From WHAT? It was a SALAD! Oh, and that bread and oil for the table? Twelve hundred and seventy calories! Divided by three comes out to … TOO MUCH. THIS is what makes me crazy about dining out. I eat what I think are healthy items, and they’re not. I know, if it tastes that good, it’s probably not good for you.  And restaurants load up on fat and sugar because our little lizard brains adore it, and it keeps us coming back. Yes, if I’m ordering fries or a brownie sundae or a big plate of nachos, I know I’m getting a huge number of calories and fat. But a salmon salad should not be a big surprise. We spend a lot of our food dollars at restaurants, and a lot of us eat out several times a week. We’re great customers! So why are restaurants trying to kill us?


Salvaging Our Future: True Resource Management

I don’t like seeing anything go to waste. Not anything. Does this stem from the stories many of us heard as kids as we sat stuck at the dinner table until we cleaned our plate because “children are starving in Africa”? Or is it wise management? Or perhaps guilt and wisdom combined. Children starving in Africa created an early awareness that resources are not infinite for everyone. Now, several years later, we’re aware that infinite resources are no longer a given for anyone anywhere.

I reuse, recycle, and recreate everywhere I can, and get great satisfaction from such efficiency. I do believe, however, that many of the young adults stepping in to take over the running of the world find this tendency quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain annoying. They are aware of basic environmental stuff, saving trees and recycling containers, but do they get that resource management just starts there?

My nephew was recently hired to film a documentary about a man who salvaged scraps from restaurants to create good meals. His mother observed, “I do this almost every night, and no one is making a documentary about me!” I do, too, and–no film crews. According to my sister-in-law, this is a hot topic, with recent articles in The Wall Street Journal about top chefs holding competitions to make meals from scraps and in the The Washington Post about using scraps, along with less than perfect agricultural specimens in support of the farmer. I love these ideas, but do the perhaps 20-something and 30-something writers and editors now in charge really see using leftovers to create another meal as a breaking new trend? Generations coming up behind me so totally immersed in having their meals, and beverages, prepared by someone else, at Chipotle or Starbucks or wherever, only to throw out the leftovers, and buy a new meal next time hunger strikes that they can’t fathom this type of efficiency and creativity? Say it isn’t so! I made a conscious decision not to follow the path of my parents’ generation, not to color my family’s dining times with bleak pictures of children starving in Africa. But now I’m thinking, maybe we all should have bleakened a meal or two by bringing the focus back to the starving children in Africa, or India or China, for that matter.

When my husband and I began to search for a home around Pittsburgh as newly-weds, we drove along the old highways south of the city past mile after mile of buildings, bricks and steel, crumbling and going to seed because there was land available in newer areas that could be developed in a flashier more contemporary way. We did not move anywhere near these wrecks, but the waste of all the resources to develop these now crumbling and abandoned structures was disheartening. The sadness pervaded the very air in these towns, and stayed with me…while I stayed far away.

We bought a house, a new one in a newly-developed area, and soon I was not driving around crumbling towns or spanking new ones; I was parenting my young son at home in my new neighborhood. As I joined with other formerly working mothers in my neighborhood for play dates with our toddlers, I began envisioning a new type of employment service, an exercise that intensified when I moved to a Boston suburb with a now school-aged son. My neighborhoods were busting with mothers professional in so many areas. Lots of work experience, multiple undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates we were, filling up that sippy cup, or driving the carpool. We wanted to be hands-on Moms, but many of us would have also loved the mental challenge, and value, of working…not to mention the income. I dreamed of an employment service that matched parenting moms with corporations who valued their abilities and wanted them as flex-time employees or consultants.

But the problem wasn’t just lack of an infrastructure to bring the two camps together. There was no serious pervasive interest in or value placed on all this talent languishing away around the swing sets. If you had a contact from when you were working full time, you were good. Otherwise, forget it. I discovered that anything I had done or written more than 24 months ago (and the fact that it had been in different states didn’t help) didn’t matter. What had I done in the last two years? That was the only truly important fact. Really? So rather than valuing my years as a writer amassing experience, and clips, once I’m home with my child not writing every week for money for a few months, I have also forgotten everything I ever knew and lost every ability I ever had? How does this make sense?

Now someone like me is apparently an even bigger buzz kill for potential employers: I’m over fifty. I’ve got more to contribute to any organization than I did in my twenties or thirties, as do my female, and male, colleagues. Do we bring different qualities than younger counterparts? Or course we do. That’s the point. We may not be as speedy. We may not want to multi-task because we know better. We may not be as technologically savvy. But we may very well be more organized. More skilled. More able to identify a problem with more experience in solving it. More stable. More dependable. More “we” then “me”.

And how about more joyful? Some of us can work now because we want to, not because we’re worried about paying our bills or because we have to prove ourselves, but because we like what we do, we’re good at it, and we want to contribute. Lowered stress frees up a lot of energy to fire synapses. When I hear repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, employees being phased out because they are in their fifties—oh, horrors—the creative efficient resource manager in me wants to tear my hair out, again. More waste. More horrible, and unnecessary, waste.

Our best way to navigate forward, for the environment, for the economy, for our humanity, is as a multi-aged, multi-experienced team. Holistic management of all our resources, animal, vegetable, mineral? Now that’s a trend to follow…



Ah, Fresh Cinnamon!

Women living here in New England in eras past did not have an easy time running a household. Gathering wood and maintaining a fire for cooking and heat. Hauling water. Caring for and butchering livestock. Growing vegetables. Yet I’m not convinced that a more contemporary ideal of doing as little as possible is the answer either. I find real satisfaction in hand washing a sink full of pots and pans, shoveling the sidewalk of snow, growing my own tomatoes. But I know not even prairie women grew, dried, and ground their own spices. Civilizations have been built on the commerce of these natural treasures; murders committed, lives lost, over cardamom and cassia.

I won’t say I was ready to kill anyone when I discovered my cinnamon bottle was empty the other morning, but I wasn’t happy.  My husband could have told me he used it up. (Homemade applesauce with cinnamon is a favorite comfort food around here.  And apparently, he did tell me, but the exchange went right by me.) I had almost out-of-season cranberries. It was the weekend. I had time to bake. I was looking forward to trying a new recipe for cranberry nut muffins. With almost all the ingredients lined up on the counter, I discover the empty cinnamon bottle. Loud sigh. Once I get going in the creative process, I’m not interested in stopping. Getting dressed—I was wearing layered sweats fit for no eye—and going out in the frigid cold to the grocery store to pick up the cinnamon was going to ruin the whole process. Not to mention make it too late to get these muffins prepared for breakfast.

Plan B? I did have cinnamon sticks. I pulled out a grater and gave that a try. No surprise; that didn’t work. Not one to give up easily, I turned next to the little mill I use to grind the flax seeds I put in blender drinks. I broke up the cinnamon sticks, popped the lid on, and pushed down to hear the whir of the engine, and things flying helter skelter in there. I wasn’t really convinced the mill was going to make the pieces small enough, but what the heck; it was worth a try.

I eased the top back off and beheld: copper-hued brown gold! Finely powdered cinnamon of a deeper and richer color than I’ve ever seen in a store. And the scent! Mulled cider. Cinnamon buns. Apple pie. Burning candles that smell like mulled cider, cinnamon buns, and apple pie. Everything homey cinnamon evokes. And I’d made it myself.

I do a juice fast from time to time, and one thing I’ve experienced repeatedly. If I make my own juice, I can do the fast without feeling overwhelmingly hungry and bereft of sustenance. If I use store-bought juice, I can’t. Fresh juice nourishes me in a way that the exact same mix, premade and bottled, does not. Some explain this as life energy, that fresh food has life energy that processed food does not. I do not know what this means, or what this could be; I only know this is the best explanation I’ve heard for why fresh is organically more sustaining.

I made those muffins, and using my own ground cinnamon created an experience that quite surpassed making muffins with cinnamon poured from that mega-bottle from Costco. Life energy? Or just the eternal pleasure to be found in even a small measure of self-sufficiency…


Good Story, Babe

I was sitting in “rush” hour traffic in my town the other day…my New England town is not particularly large but our main thoroughfare is a central artery to and from Route 95 so rush hour generally means literally sitting still in your not-moving car figuring out something to keep you occupied until you can inch on home.

A slender young man, I’m going to guess twenties, maybe approaching thirties, was walking on the sidewalk.  He had accessorized his jeans and black tee-shirt with a black baseball cap and his arms were covered in tattoos, but it was the message on his tee-shirt that caught my attention.

“Good story, babe.  Now go make me a sandwich.”

I laughed out loud, and then sat beaming, not at the joke, but because I had been able to laugh out loud at this particular joke.  

For I am perennially the babe with the “good story,” surrounded by males who aren’t interested.  They are, however, eternally ready to have me prepare food for them.

At times, this has really gotten my ire up, when DH has displayed his nuclear disinterest.  Okay, so maybe he doesn’t care that there is a new huge puppy in our neighborhood, a rescue from Tennessee, part coon dog, whose owner has no idea about dog etiquette and who is one day going to find his big darling the victim of a dog fight because of it.

What my husband doesn’t realize is that if he would give me a brief moment of eye contact, a little nod, a quick “Really?” “That’s funny,” “I’ve never seen them,” or something of the sort, the episode would be over and I’d go on my merry way. 

No, as any real story teller will tell you [gladly], a nonresponse fires challenge neutrons.  My only possible return to this annihilating disinterest is to make the story longer, grander, embellish more, enthuse more, imitate the voices of the starring players and maybe even physically act things out, all in a bid to make my story grab my audience’s attention.   

Does this work?  Pretty much never.  But every now and then, I can catch him, and he involuntarily looks up, a glint of interest in his eye, or gives a verbal response indicating a passing moment of attention–because I’ve managed to launch some recipe of words, that has gelled into a morsel he can’t resist.     

Ah, success is sweet.  But little does he know, whether it’s me, or any other story teller drawn to turn life’s simple events into fascinating vignettes, this moment of interest only strengthens the Pavlovian response.    

Good story, babe.  Now go make me a sandwich?  Bring it on!  


Dinner is Served!

I am carrying around a sense of accomplishment.  Something I did well.  Something I enjoyed doing.  Something I could do quite effortlessly.  Something I received compliments for and knew they were sincere.  It’s a great feeling!

My friends, Julie and Kathy, and I celebrate our  birthdays and Christmas/Chanukah together.  We are very very old friends – I’ve know Julie since pre-school and Kathy since third grade when her family moved to our small town in Ohio.  So, our celebratory dinners are fun and relaxed and always include thoughtful presents.

Kathy’s birthday on May 20th signaled another  traditional birthday dinner. Julie and I asked Kathy if she would rather we treat her to a dinner in a restaurant or cook for her.  Kathy told us that she would rather eat “at home”.  So, I quickly offered my house for the birthday dinner.

Protocol dictates that whomever hosts the dinner is responsible for the menu and the entree.  So, it fell on my shoulders to decide what to make for dinner and tell Julie what to bring as a complement.

I thought about Italian meatloaf which is simple and yummy.  Then I thought that I would experiment and try to make stuffed cabbage for the first time in my life. I thought about shrimp over pasta which I love.  But, then I heard the weather – 88 degrees on Saturday.  Boy, it would be hot during our dinner!

So, I came up with an all-cold menu.

Drinks – Gin and Tonics

Appetizer – Julie brought two artisan cheeses and crusty bread.

Main Course – Cold salmon with yogurt/cucumber sauce
Side dish – tabouli with fresh tomatoes, scallions and parsley

Green salad – Julie brought a lovely salad with homemade dressing

Dessert – Fresh strawberry shortcake

Saturday morning I drove to the fish market and Idylwilde farms for the very freshest salmon and fruit and vegetables.  Then I happily microwaved the salmon and set it aside to cool.  I mixed up the yogurt sauce – adding not only the diced cukes but enough garlic and salt to give it a tang.  I followed the directions on the box of tabouli and cut up the veggies to add to it. 

The only thing I did to the strawberries was de-stem and sprinkle sugar on them and stick them in the refrigerator for later.

Then I baked the shortcakes using my mother’s favorite recipe for them – Bisquick!

All the food was prepared ahead of time and the only thing that I had to do during the course of the meal was whip the cream.  Easy, relaxing, cool and delicious.  The components of the main course melded together – pink and moist salmon slathered with yogurt sauce; tabouli as a perfect side to salmon; yogurt sauce mixed in with tabouli and a crisp green salad as a palate cleanser. 

Fresh strawberries slightly sweetened left to produce their own juice. Freshly baked shortcakes cut in half with the strawberries and juice on one half and a large dollop of freshly whipped cream on top covered by the other half of the shortcake.

Kathy and Julie loved it all – and so did I!

So, yes, I have a feeling of accomplishment.  And, I might add that everything I made except the tabouli and the shortcakes was done without a recipe.  I cooked, seasoned, added and enhanced all the food by taste.  I am a Cook!!! Hear me roar!

Real Estate Hint – I was taught a lesson this Memorial Weekend.  I put a new listing on the market late Thursday.  The price point was low for my town so I knew it would get a lot of interest.  The sellers wanted the house to go on the market NOW even though we were heading into Memorial weekend.  I decided to give it my all!  I ran public open houses Saturday and Sunday.  I thought that perhaps nobody would show up and it would be a waste of my time.  But, they turned out exactly as I had hoped – 7 parties on Saturday and 18 parties on Sunday.  And, we got two offers on Sunday after the open house!  So, holiday weekends can be great real estate weekends!  Stay home and buy a house!



It’s Thanksgiving morning and I just read a commentary in the Boston Globe by Marianne Leone about her Italian family’s take on Thanksgiving.  In years past her parents and grandparents, new arrivals in America, had celebrated Thanksgiving with familiar foods from their native country.  Her childhood memories of the feast included antipasto, capon, and of course pasta dishes.  Only later did they switch to Butterball turkeys and mashed potatoes although continuing to include pasta as a necessary addition to their American cuisine.

This got me thinking about my own traditional meals at holidays and how much I enjoy them.   When it comes to Thanksgiving I insist on turkey, stuffing, potatoes (preferably sweet), cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie.  You get the idea – all the fixings that make Thanksgiving such a tried and true delicious meal.

I do know that different regions of this country have their own Thanksgiving specialties.  My friends who are born and bred New Englanders insist on mashed turnips (ugh!) and my first husband liked cornbread stuffing instead of Pepperidge Farm which showed his southern roots. But, by and large, we Americans all eat the same thing on this holiday.

Once my mother cooked a duck instead of a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Now I love duck but not on Thanksgiving.  My sister and I insisted that she never vary from the traditional turkey again.

The funniest Thanksgiving meal I ever heard of was told by my ex-husband’s neice.  She was a new bride of a young man who had grown up in Russia.  His parents, who now lived on Long Island, invited the newlyweds to their house for Thanksgiving.  Knowing the menu, but not the recipes, his mother laid out a Swanson turkey TV dinner still in their aluminum dishes in front of each person at the table.  What a hoot!

So today I am off to my friends’ house for the Thanksgiving meal.  I have been invited to their house for prior Thanksgivings and I am happy to be among their guests because I know they are as traditional as I am.  I can be assured that there will be turkey and potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  No nouveau cuisine, no vegan, no ducks or capons.  Just good ol’ American Thanksgiving dinner.  I’ll eat pasta tomorrow…

Real estate tip:  I don’t care if you are a buyer or seller nor if you are worried about your offer, your mortgage or your closing date.  Please please please don’t contact your realtor on a major holiday!  Everything can wait until after the holiday!!!


Hostaphobia – Fear of Entertaining

Like so many things, the rules and expectations on entertaining company have changed, a lot, over the last generation.  Not that I really knew much about them, as my mother was a widow with six children, a mother and brother,  and not much need or desire to entertain. As it was, we were nine sitting down to dinner every night; isn’t that enough?

But then, I had to marry into an Armenian family, one of those with a love of food, and a tradition of entertaining, lots of people, frequently.  I wasn’t too clear on this going in, that it would eventually be my turn to have people over and feed them good food, all at the same time.  I’m still not the hostess with the mostess; it’s by no means natural to me, but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and a lot comes with practice, and having the right pots, pans and serving dishes on hand. Who knew?

 My mother-in-law may be even more prone to giving a dinner party at the drop of a hat than other women of her age and generation.  She’s an organizer, planner, and she enjoys doing it. Even today, at 84 with a back that hurts, MIL takes on luncheons for twelve or a buffet for fifteen, and would do a sit-down dinner for twenty, I believe, if the occasion arose.  She’s got it all down to a science – the pots, the timing, the recipes, etc.  I marvel at her abilities, and have come to appreciate the pleasure she gets from it, and the pleasure she has given to others.

 Fortunately for me, my husband grew up around food, at the family food store, Eastern Lamejun Bakery, in Belmont, MA and is not afraid to cook for groups.  He likes his own cooking, he’s confident in the results, and he’s not afraid to vary and experiment. The only rule is, “stay out of the way” when he’s in the kitchen – ‘cause he doesn’t like interference or interruption. He is not above perusing cook books, and he will talk cooking with his mother, if need be. There are members of my family who have come to associate Donald with certain favorite dishes, and he makes them when we are together – case in point, the breaded pork chops for my mother. Yes, food is a way to the heart.

 Early in the marriage, we promulgated a deception on this cooking/entertaining business. When it was our turn to host a meal and/or to bring something for pot luck, the assumption was that I had made it. Not so. Not that we lied, but when someone said, “Erin, this is delicious.” my answer was, “Thank you. Glad you like it.” Could be a sticky moment if someone inquired about the recipe. It’s not my nature to lie or dissemble; I’m not good at it, and it makes me uncomfortable. It wasn’t too long before I disclosed the truth, and that Donald was the main chef at home. Perhaps a moment of surprise, but then we all passed on; after all, it was the food that counted. As for entertaining in the larger sense, I was always the mistress of small talk, and I’ve gotten quite good at opening a bottle of wine. I also like to bake, and happy to do desserts.

 Over the years, I’ve learned more how to prepare for the occasion, decorate, and even do some of the sous-chef work. In all, the pain is less; the pleasure more. Once I got over the idea that the meal was an occasion to show-off and/or to create social obligation, I came around to seeing the main purpose was a good time together without too much stress on anyone’s part.  Sadly, the family is spread wider, the occasions become fewer, and the last major holiday, Easter, we spent on an airplane on the way back from Florida. But I’ve learned the bigger lesson – it’s good to make time for other people, and sharing meal at your home is as basic as it gets.



Grandma Breton's Recipe Box

My grandmother enjoyed spending the hour before dinner in her Rumford, Maine, kitchen. But it would’t be cooking. She’d bring out some Fractured French cocktail napkins–where Pied de Terre became a man who couldn’t hold his liquor and had to make use of the bushes, and Piece de Resistance became an extremely  voluptuous woman in a bikini–along with highball glasses, a mixer, and a bottle of alcohol, and while away the cocktail hour chatting in whatever language came out, French or English. French-speakers from other areas would find this local French Canadian French pretty fractured in general, but as long as everyone was local, or not too concerned about understanding every last word, a good time could be had by all. And if she could pull out the cruise ship Olympia playing cards and some pennies and convince everyone to play whist, so much the better. This was okay, that she was drinking and not cooking, because while Grandma Breton was a lot of fun, and we kids loved to play cards with her, she was also renown, at least in our immediate family, as a really bad cook.

So imagine my great surprise, verging on shock, when, upon my Uncle’s passing, I went to clean out the apartment that she and my father’s brother had lived in for over sixty years, and found Grandma Breton’s recipe box. An oxymoron if ever I heard one. This had to be explored.

My grandmother passed away at the age of 94 around 1980, so her heyday of cooking would have somewhat coincided with the development of frozen and canned foods. Her recipes evoked this in spades. Cans of pineapple, fruit cocktail, shrimp, ham, peas, mushroom soup, along with the basics of flour, sugar, milk, Crisco, Ritz crackers, macaroni, and, for some reason, dates, and if my grandmother’s recipe box is any indication, you were set to eat for all the long months of the cold Maine winter.

I didn’t find hardly a recipe I might actually cook, but every browning index card and ragged-edged magazine clipping evoked fond, and yes, proud, memories of my grandmother.  Widowed when her third son, my father, was less than a year old, she worked hard to support her three children, and once her own children were grown, played hard with friends–and grandchildren.  And with her newly discovered recipe box in hand, I remain eternally grateful that she whenever she came to visit, she left the cooking to anyone else.   


Nostalgia and Chicken Pie


  Memorial Day has come to be a holiday of general nostalgia to me; not just remembering those in the armed forces, but just remembering, period. After a busy weekend of traveling and socializing, we were coming together and quieting down Monday night while my son got back to studying for his last two exams, and I wanted to serve a homespun dinner. I turned to a cookbook I’ve enjoyed for years: The Sunday News (as in The New York News) Family Cook Book, published in 1962.

There’s a story behind this cookbook, a reason why of all the cook books I have, this one is on a bit of a pedestal…this over sized volume, complete with color photos, is part of a leather-bound, gold embossed series given out by the company employing my father. Every Christmas, each staff member received a new volume to expand their collection.  When us four kids were mostly off to college and beyond, and my parents began to downsize, my mother offered the books to me, the biggest book-lover in the family. As I look over to the shelf in my office, I see all the volumes of the collection I keep here, from such handy standards as Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and The Columbia Viking Desk Encyclopedia to classics like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and An Anthology of Famous American Stories to more unique but equally treasured offerings like The Wise Garden Encyclopedia and The History of Painting. Nostalgia, indeed! What corporate gift-giving scenario these days results in an ever-expanding personal library of literary and reference classics? Now that might be an idea worth resurrecting.

The recipe we resurrected was Western Chicken Pie, a rendition of chicken pot pie (actually I used turkey) that had my son, normally prone to eating moderately, and every couple hours (which may be healthier, but doesn’t give the cook any idea that she’s created anything special) exclaiming repeatedly on how good it was, and going back for, not just seconds, but thirds!! Here, for your own nostalgic enjoyment, with some optional contemporary updates:

Western Chicken Pie
One small onion
One stalk celery (I added a carrot, also)
One-fourth cup butter
Saute: Until soft
One-half cup flour (I used mostly whole wheat pastry flour)
One teaspoon salt
One-eighth teaspoon crumbled rosemary (I used dried only because I didn’t have fresh)
Two cups milk (I used about 1/4 rice milk; sweeter and lighter)
One cup chicken broth (I added some Frontier “vegetarian chicken” seasoning, which is TO DIE FOR)
Cook: Until thickened
Two cups large pieces cooked chicken (or turkey)
One-half cup yellow cornmeal
One-half cup sifted flour
One tablespoon sugar (I used slightly less of a less-processed version; still pours, but light brown)
One and one-half teaspoons baking powder
One-half teaspoon salt (sea salt, always)
One egg
Two-thirds cup milk
Three tablespoons salad oil
Bake: Twenty minutes
Serves: Six

(Don’t know about these 1960s eaters; my fellas are both over six feet, and I’m not petite; in this family, on Memorial Day, with slowing down and taking time to enjoy a meal together, this dish served three.)

In a saucepan, cook the finely chopped onion and celery in the fourth cup of melted butter until soft. Blend in the flour, salt and crumbled rosemary. Gradually stir in the two cups of milk and the chicken broth, stirring smooth. Cook, stirring until sauce thickens. Add the chicken. Transfer to a baking pan or shallow casserole (7 x 12 x 2; mine was not quite that deep, but worked). Prepare the cornbread crust by sifting the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. In a second bowl, beat the egg, stir in the milk and salad oil; beat into the sifted dry ingredients. Pour over the creamed chicken and bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes or until nicely browned on top. Serve at once.