Election Day

B and I baked an election day pie early this morning with an important message: VOTE! We did early voting last week and will be watching television coverage as the returns begin to come in this evening, by which time our tummies will be full of our fruits-of-the-forest pie. Today’s rendition is made with apples, raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.

SoCS: dough

Today, E and I took ABC to her first theater experience, a performance of Sesame Street Live. The theme was magic, but a lot of the story revolved around things that turned out to be science. One of those things was making cookie dough out of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar and adding heat to make it into cookies.

My other dough experience of the week was making pie dough for a birthday pie for Paco who turned 94 on Tuesday. I wanted to make him a prune-apricot pie. Unfortunately, it had been a loooong time since I had baked a pie from dried fruit. And I was super tired because I had been up at night with ABC and then had trouble getting back to sleep. I realized too late that I had forgotten the salt in the crust. D’oh! I also didn’t put as much water in the fruit when I stewed it as I should have, so the apricots didn’t soften as much as I would have liked and I didn’t have very much juice to thicken. Still, it all worked out okay as Paco enjoyed it very much.

I thought that doing an unsweetened pie might also appeal to Nana, who hasn’t had much appetite lately, but it didn’t sound good to her. She is still eating breakfast, but usually not much for lunch and supper and she doesn’t like things that are too sweet. One of the hospice rules is that she can eat whatever she wants and we are following that. We have gotten some coffee ice cream to keep on hand because it was always one of her favorites, the bitterness of the coffee cutting the sugar. We’ll see if she wants to try some someday soon.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “dough/d’oh”. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/03/29/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-30-19/

strawberry pies

In my region, it is strawberry season. While strawberries from far away are available in supermarkets year-round, we almost never buy them, preferring to wait for the short but sweet local strawberry season.

When the wild strawberries in our lawn begin to ripen, it is time to head to the farmstands for quarts of flavorful, ripe berries. (It used to be time to head to the pick-your-own farms in the area but lack of time and an aging body have put an end to spending some early morning hours picking berries and avoiding slugs.)

In the early part of the season, I always make a fresh strawberry pie, using a recipe that my mom, known as Nana here at TJCM, made. It originated in a leaflet from the farm that we used to visit with her during childhood to pick strawberries. My copy was written out in Nana’s elegant cursive on a recipe card among those that she gifted to me when B and I married. We shared this year’s fresh strawberry pie topped with whipped cream with her and the family over at Mercy House, the hospice residence where Nana is now living.

As the season progresses and the berries need to be used more quickly, I move on to recipes that involve cooked berries. Last week, I made one of my favorites, strawberry rhubarb pie. I tried something different this time, using pastry cut-outs instead of a full top crust, hoping that the filling in the extra-deep pie plate would cook through without soaking the crust.
36427111_10212160706838382_6712770018037202944_n It worked! Again, the family gathered at Mercy House to enjoy pie with Nana and Paco.

Strawberry season is always a blessing, but this year even more so. Making more sweet memories is a precious gift.

Merry? Christmas

The usual Christmas greeting in the United States is “Merry Christmas!” Merry meaning cheerful, jolly, festive.

I am not any of those.

As I have been writing about in several recent posts, I offloaded many of my usual Christmas preparation tasks to other adults in the house, concentrating on the few that really needed my attention. To be honest, some, like decorating, I just could not bring myself to do; they are too evocative. We have many ornaments that came to us from B’s mom; this is our second Christmas without her. With my mom under the care of hospice and my dad, at 92, not getting around as well as he used to, this is the first Christmas in many years that neither my parents nor my sisters will see our decorated tree.

Much about this Christmas has been bittersweet. My daughters E and T were invited by the music director that they sang and rang handbells with as children and teens to sing with the adult choir at her current church for Advent and Christmas. It was lovely to have them sing at the late evening mass on Christmas Eve, two young women among a group that is composed largely of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents. It is wonderful for them to have a chance to sing together as they did for so many years, but we all know that it is likely the last time they will be living here together, as E and baby ABC will likely join L in London when E’s spousal visa comes through in mid-2018.

Father Clarence began the homily by recounting early memories of celebrating Christmas and how the family gathering changed and diminished over time through death and moves and other obligations. It reminded me that I have a lot of company in the bittersweet department.

It also caused me to reflect on something that has been difficult for me in this part year. People keep advising me to enjoy the time with my daughters and granddaughter and parents, setting aside any thoughts of what we know the future will/might hold.

I can’t.

While I know some people can concentrate on only the present moment, it is not a skill I have mastered. It’s not even a skill that I can convince myself I want to master.

One of the sweet moments today was watching ABC eat the filling from pumpkin pie with whipped cream for the first time. It matters to me that the recipe we use is the same one that my mom made for us for many years until we took over the holiday pie-baking duties. It matters that my mom was sitting on the other end of the couch, watching her great-granddaughter grabbing the spoon of filling and cream and enjoying the new food – after the first few bites when she was adjusting to the new taste and texture. It matters that B’s mom, who was always telling us stories about her friends’ great-grandchildren, passed away before ABC was conceived. It matters that next year, ABC may be in London for Christmas and none of us know which other faces will be missing from our holiday celebration.

While it might be nice to be “merry,” I know that I can’t give up my connections with the past and my realistic projections of the future to create a merry present. Today, I have learned that it is possible to be feel simultaneously bittersweet and content.

Wishing Christmas blessings to those celebrating and the gifts of peace and loving-kindness to all!

Strawberries!

The Algonquins who were native to my region named the full moon this time of year the strawberry moon.

Usually at this time of year, we are enjoying plentiful local strawberries. For many years, I would go to a local farm to pick quarts and quarts of berries. We would share some with family and then I would put the kitchen in full-blown strawberry mode. Strawberries on cereal or with yogurt for breakfast. Strawberries on fresh leaf lettuce or baby spinach with pecans and goat cheese. Strawberry shortcake. Fresh strawberry pie. Strawberry rhubarb soup. Strawberries on ice cream. Strawberry-rhubarb pie, crisp, or cobbler. Just eating them and enjoying their sweet fragrance.

The last few years, I haven’t been picking myself, but buying them from the local farmstands. We don’t often buy strawberries other than when they are local. Supermarket strawberries from hundreds or thousands of miles away just don’t compare to what our local berries taste like.

I know that the farms will have berries when the wild strawberries that grow in our yard ripen.

This year, the berries are late.

After a mild winter, the spring was chilly. While we had some wet weather in the earlier part of the spring, we are now in a dry spell. It’s all combined to make the local berries late to ripen.

Last week, I was able to find some berries from a farm about sixty miles from here and, yesterday, I finally found some from Broome-Tioga.

There is a fresh strawberry pie setting in the refrigerator. After supper, we will bring it up to Nana and Paco’s to share with them.

It’s best to eat it the day it is made.

It won’t be a hardship for the five of us to finish it.

 

Catching up on the twelve days of Christmas

Today, Catholics celebrate Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. Technically, it should be celebrated on Jan. 6th, bringing to a close the famed twelve days of Christmas, but Epiphany gets moved to a Sunday in the modern liturgical calendar. Also, the liturgical season of Christmas extends through the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord the following Sunday.  (Can you tell I spent many years serving in liturgical and music ministry?)

I posted about our Christmas Eve and Day, but haven’t filled in much of the rest of our Christmas observance.  We do try as much as possible to observe Advent as a time of waiting and preparation, even though culturally in the US, most of December is packed with Christmas festivities which end on Christmas Day rather than begin there.

One of the things that helps us extend our celebration of Christmas is the arrival of my sisters and their families after Christmas. This year, they arrived on Dec. 26. We met at my parents’ apartment for food, fun, Christmas cookies, and gift exchange that afternoon and evening, followed by a big dinner at our house on the 27th.

We inherited the making of family dinners when my parents first moved to an apartment about ten years ago. Part of the inheritance came in the form of the electric rotisserie that I remember from my childhood, on which we made a traditional rolled beef rib roast. We served mashed potatoes, gravy, popovers, rutabaga which my parents prepared, baked onions, Aussie-style bread which our son-in-law made, and fall vegetable chili, which is made with carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, onion, tomato, and red and white kidney beans.

For dessert, we had four pies:  apple, pumpkin, apple blackberry, and cranberry meringue, an addition to our pie repertoire made by our older daughter and her husband. Four pies may seem like a lot for fourteen people, but we always want to have some left over for breakfast the next morning!

Unfortunately, work schedules and threatening weather intervened and both sisters and family had to return home on the 28th. That left us two days with our older daughter E and son-in-law L before they had to fly home to Honolulu. We went out to lunch at a couple of our favorite local eateries, spent time with the grandparents, and enjoyed quiet times at home.

On the morning of the 29th, we were all up at 4 AM to get ready to bring E and L to the airport for a 6 AM flight to Newark and then on to Honolulu. We wished they could have stayed longer, but were very grateful to have them with us for a week.

I did write about our (sedate) New Year’s Eve and Day, although I did have the excitement of a new poem coming out on Silver Birch Press.

Epiphany is traditionally the day that we take down our Christmas tree, although we were late putting it up this year and it isn’t dropping needles, so maybe we will wait until next weekend. B returns to work on Monday and next week’s calendar is filled with appointments, so it is back to reality, or at least what passes for routine, tomorrow.
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This post is part of Linda’s JusJoJan initiative. Join us! Read more about it here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/03/just-jot-it-january-3rd-frozen/

JJJ 2016

 

Strawberry shortcake

One of the trade-offs I made in spending five weeks visiting my daughter E in Hawai’i was that I was not at home for local strawberry season.  (I can hear you all sarcastically saying “aaaaawwwwww!”)

In our family, strawberry season is one of the most anticipated times of year. We used to go to our favorite local farm to pick them by the bucket, for ourselves and to share with extended family. I will admit the last few years had turned into buying quarts at the farmers’ market, with fewer people at home and a few physical constraints creeping in.

The two to three weeks of the height of strawberry season then turn into an orgy of strawberry eating. Strawberry shortcake was usually the first entrant. Fresh strawberry glacé pie, using a recipe from the farm we used to visit when I was growing up. Strawberry spinach salad. Strawberries on ice cream. Strawberries on cereal. Eating strawberries plain or dipped in sugar. Then, there were the strawberry-rhubarb combinations – pie, crisp, and a chilled soup that is one of my favorite dishes ever.

It is all amazingly delicious and special because we seldom eat strawberries unless they are fresh and local.

So I thought I had missed all the strawberries until I went to the farmers’ market this morning. One of the vendors is not a farmer himself, but re-sells produce from various New York and Pennsylvania farms. He must have some suppliers who are a bit further north and still had fresh strawberries. I bought a quart and currently have about half of them washed, sliced, and macerating in the fridge. I baked the shortcakes and will get some whipping cream when I go out on errands this afternoon. The bowl and beater and chilling in the fridge.

I get to surprise B with fresh strawberry shortcake tonight for dessert. I can hardly wait!

A different Christmas/Eve

This Christmas does not look like others at our house. There are far fewer decorations. There is a wreath on the door only because I ordered one many weeks ago through a Garden Ministry fundraiser at church. We do have a fir lovingly decorated with decades-worth of special ornaments, including one we bought this year that was crafted by an artisan on the BIg Island of Hawai’i, but only because my spouse B and daughter T did the stringing of lights and hanging of ornaments.

My angel cardholder is full of Christmas greetings from friends and family.

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And that is about it. No creche on the mantel. No carol singers in the dining room. No Christmas-theme magnets on the refrigerator. No needlework nutcracker hanging from the doorknob.

As those who know me personally or who always read my blog or Facebook posts know, this December has been challenging for me. Assisting my mother-in-law through health issues, including a five-day hospital stay, following on several months of prior difficulties, was time-consuming, so I had already pared down my to-do list for the holidays. Then, last week, I developed shingles and the list got pared down some more with most of the tasks getting allocated to B and T.

The one major task that I retained was sending holiday greetings to friends and family. There are a number of people with whom I only connect at Christmastime – faraway friends who I have not seen in years but who still hold a special place in my heart, family that I used to see on a regular basis, but who are now living in different states, friends whom I have known for decades – and others that I still see on a regular basis but want to greet and reminisce with for the holidays. I prefer to choose individual cards, signed by hand, with small handwritten notes or longer printed personalized letters enclosed, sealed with a Christmas Seal and posted with a holiday stamp appropriate to the recipient. I accepted early in December that this was not going to be an ideal year, so I settled on writing a letter that would go to nearly everyone on my list sans card.

Writing the letter proved to be difficult as it involved re-living some very emotional times of the past year. It was lucky that I drafted it when I did, as the bulk of the work was done before my mother-in-law’s hospital stay. When I came down with shingles, I still had not had a chance to print the letters and address the envelopes, so, as B and T took over everything else, I sat and folded, addressed, sealed, and stamped, so that nearly all of them went into the mail on Saturday. Most will arrive in time for Christmas or the end of Hanukkah, while some that have a longer journey may not arrive until closer to New Year’s Eve, but I feel warm-hearted, knowing that I have sent part of myself out to friends and family at this special time of year. (Full disclosure:  There are several shameless plugs for Top of JC’s Mind in the letter. We’ll see if anyone actually visits because of it. 😉 )

We have already completed an important part of our Christmas celebration. My sisters and families came for a couple of days to see us and my parents. In recent years, we have exchanged meals rather than gifts, with their meals being in area restaurants and ours a traditional meal at our home. We make a rolled beef-rib roast, prepared on the 50+ year old rotisserie that belonged to my parents before they moved to an apartment. For dessert, we always make pies. This year it was apple, apple blackberry, and maple-and-brown-sugar pecan.
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B got extra fancy with the crust for the pecan with tiny Christmas tree cutouts along the edge!
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I was too tired from the shingles to be much help in the kitchen, although I did peel and slice most of the apples for the pies. It was odd not to be (wildly) orchestrating everything and everyone in the kitchen, but I and everyone else enjoyed the meal immensely. I had to absent myself from some of the activities while my sisters were here in order to rest, but I was grateful to be well enough to enjoy their visit. Anti-viral meds are wonderful!

T and I attended Christmas vigil Mass tonight at 6, with T’s former handbell choir and the instrumental ensemble and choir providing music. During the intercessions, we prayed for Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, csj, whom I consider one of my spiritual mothers. She passed away last night. She lived a life of service to God and people as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Carondelet for many decades – she was in her upper 90s – and lived the priestly life to which she was called to the extent possible within the current structure of the Catholic Church. While I’m sad that she is not here any longer, I rejoice knowing that she lives in the joy of God’s presence in heaven.

B has baked date and cranberry breads for Christmas breakfast. There will be stockings and presents to open, although that will be relatively quick as not much Christmas shopping transpired. No one is very fussed about there being many fewer than usual Christmas presents this year. Anything we really need will get purchased in the days and weeks ahead. There is a brunch reservation up at Good Shepherd Village dining room for us to eat with the three resident grand/parents. There will be time for gift exchange with them and then it may be naptime. While I am lucky that my case of shingles is not very severe, there is still some pain and fatigue, so I am trying to be reasonable and plan some down time.

I wish a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and gifts of peace, joy, and harmony to all!

Joanne C.