“Why Dutch?”


A couple of Thanksgivings ago I had cooked a Tofurkey in this pot for the vegetarians among us. (Yes. That is a real thing, despite the strange looks I get when trying to find one in the supermarket.) I found a relative studying the vessel and then cornering me to find out, not about the Tofurkey(he was deep fat frying a turkey at the time), but about the Dutch oven.

He had a restaurant and loved seeing old kitchen items, but he said he had never seen a Dutch oven like mine. It was another inherited piece from my grandmother and I used it all the time without thinking much about it. Manufactured by Griswold, this Erie, Pennsylvania cast iron pan turns out to be of monetary value in the world of cast iron collecting. (Who knew that there was even a world of cast iron collecting?) While I have no intention of selling mine since it is in constant use, I was intrigued that he was right to inquire about it.

The lid of the Dutch oven also fits on the cast iron skillet I wrote about a couple of days ago. This comes in handy when I want to braise some meat with less sauce than I might use in the Dutch oven. The larger pan holds chili, stew, soup and a variety of sauces. It was a slow cooker before someone decided to market an electric slow cooker. I do have to remove leftovers to store them, since tomato based food will take on an unpleasant(albeit healthy) metallic taste if left in too long.

As to why it is called Dutch. I have no idea.


“An Evening In A Democracy”


Last night we attended a lecture at the Connecticut Historical Society with Eric Foner, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and expert on Reconstruction after the American Civil War. After listening to inane ideas from the so-called leader of my nation, and after being bombarded with equally poorly thought through ideas of his critics, it was restorative to listen to Foner.

He spoke for what he called a therapist’s and professor’s hour, namely 50 minutes. I could have easily listened to him for another two hours, so engaging and enlightening was his presentation. His newest book, which we purchased ahead of its next week’s release, focuses on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Trump recently questioned the rights of anyone born here being granted citizenship and suggested he would change this provision. He apparently remains ignorant of the constitutional guarantee in the 14th Amendment providing birthright citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of the status of the parents. The facts reassured me that it would take much more than bluster to deny a baby citizenship.

Foner also discussed the widely held inaccurate view, first promulgated in the early 20th century and continued until the civil rights movement here in the 1960’s that Reconstruction had been a failure because black politicians were incapable of governing. The racist view also said the all northern efforts in the south were opportunistic. I had been taught such history in the early 1960’s. Only my recent reading has shown me that Reconstruction failed because of a massive backlash, backed by extensive violence and Jim Crow laws, that prevented black citizens from gaining the rights guaranteed them in the 14th Amendment.

As the same old backlash rears its ugly head here again with the idea that rights for one take rights away from another, it was heartening to remember the ideal of my nation. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Any person!

“Late to the Party”

EEE8CC74-FE22-4EF6-AD7D-28DFE3D50004 As you may remember, the first woodchuck ate all my sunflowers. The second–still at large–woodchuck ate his way through my cosmos. I had despaired of getting any of those lovely breezy flowers this summer. But, as you can see in the photo above, a few cosmos took their time and emerged to defy the little rodent’s evil intent. Not the full display that we had planted, but enough to make me smile.

My granddaughter seems to have a constant sense that she is late to the party of my life. Whenever I share a story, she says “how come no one ever told me that?” A recent phrase FOMO(fear of missing out) seems, in her case, to operate retroactively. Still, she operates on the theory that I apply to my cosmos, better late than never. She hauls out photo albums and has me identify every person and event pictured therein.

When I sit explaining who is who to her I remember my similar fascination with identifying all the relatives before me. I memorized the names of my grandfather’s siblings in one panoramic photo, even though most of them had already died. That study turned out to be very useful when I inherited all the family photos after my mother died. I have been able to label them, sometimes even posting them on this blog.

But back to the garden. I am grateful that any cosmos appeared and have a chance this September to flutter in the wind until the first killing frost. And glad that my FOMO didn’t apply to my flowers after all.

“Everything Old is New Again”

Along with the double boiler, I inherited a cast iron skillet from my grandmother. Recently I noticed that someone had vigorously cleaned it, thus exposing it to the beginnings of rust. Before we left on vacation, I slathered it with oil and let it season again. Now it has returned to its nonstick surface acquired after years of use.

The pan is rather pedestrian looking, and one day I wandered into a high end kitchen store and saw some lovely enamel clad cast iron frying pans. I eyed them for a while, then asked the salesperson if there was any advantage, besides looks, for the very expensive items. She assured me that the old pans worked just as well, better in my case since mine had been seasoned for three generations. I suspect she won’t last long in sales with this candid offering of advice!

Cast iron cookware suffers in the marketplace from its inexpensive price and its ability to last forever. This makes it an unlikely candidate for our society’s emphatic stance that newer is always better. Just the same, I will continue to stand by my pan, especially now that I have confirmed that the new ones are no better. It has a nonstick surface(unless heartily scrubbed), retains its heat well, and is said to impart a little iron to the food it cooks. And every time I use it I smile remembering its history.

“An Evening in Athens”

Portland, Maine is noted for its seafood, since it is on a large bay next to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, on this trip, we stayed in the Old Waterfront neighborhood, now full of  hotels, shops and restaurants. Two years ago, when I was on my halibut search, I had excellent halibut at Scales on the water. This time, however, we had a chance to have an authentic Greek dinner and chose to go to Emilitsa, a much praised place.

When we lived in Portland, Oregon, we had a favorite Greek restaurant, Johnny’s, a no frills, family operation with outstanding food. We ate there for years until the younger members of the family decided to go into other work and the place closed. Since then we had failed to find any offerings that even approached Johnny’s. Although there are many Greeks in the area, they all seem to run pizza parlors. There is a smattering of almost Greek places, but the only authentic food we have found here is at the annual Greek Orthodox festivals. Great food, but sitting outdoors at a long table eating off paper plates doesn’t quite produce the fine dining experience.

Emilitsa had a small focused menu, and I chose grilled lamb chops, something I hadn’t eaten in years. They tasted perfect, and only my residual table manners from my English grandmother prevented me from gnawing on the bones. But I was surely tempted! Dessert was an enormous piece of light lemon cheesecake, half of which we had for lunch the next day.

Portland ranks high as a walkable city, and we were able to park our car and walk everywhere. The streets are usually cobbled, the sidewalks bricks, so I had to watch my footing occasionally, and finally switched to my sneakers. Art abounds, people are friendly, food is excellent, lodging comfortable. I fear for its future. My experience from Portland, Oregon showed me that a place can get loved to death as people flock there, changing its character forever. Signs of new construction abounded, and perhaps it will eventually lose some of its big town/small city feel. Right now, however, it remains a wonderful place to spend a few days.


“At Long Last—a Moose!

4AF11AA9-23A4-4333-BDA5-46ABFF8A7514If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I have been looking for a moose every time we go north to Maine or Canada. You also know I have failed to see one even though I have passed at least 500 MOOSE WARNING signs. Finally we went to the one place we were guaranteed to see a moose, the Maine Wildlife Center outside Portland, Maine. Here injured wildlife of all sorts are brought to this lovely wooded refuge either to recover or to stay, depending on their conditions.

Zoos  often leave me feeling a little melancholy when I think about the animals being uprooted and caged. The center, however, felt tranquil and inviting. Each animal had its own spacious enclosure equipped with appropriate landscape. The foxes could roam through deep grass and hop on rocks to look for mice. The cougars had a cave in the rocks where they retreated. The two moose had a very large enclosure though each one stayed close to the fence, not entirely resigned to their predicament.

Now that I have seen the massive bulk of a moose, I am less inclined to hope to see one on our travels. I would be glad to spot one while hiking, but it would be disastrous for both car and moose to meet on the highway.

Our Maine travel continues for several more days. I hope to post again before we return home.

“From Scratch”


When I was a kid, the only biscuits I ever ate came in a tube in the refrigerator. You peeled the cover off the tube, whacked it hard against the edge of the counter, and pulled out eight little round pieces of dough. When baked, these little circles became what passed as biscuits in our house. The first time I ever tasted any semblance of a real biscuit was with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. These were fatter, tastier, and much much greasier.

When my mother-in-law died, we inherited the wooden biscuit bowl pictured above. She grew up in rural Texas and her mother had left this bowl to her. It must be, therefore, at least 100 years old, probably more. I have loved it as an art object, but really didn’t understand its use until I prepared this post. Sadly I never had the opportunity to ask my mother-in-law how she remembered it being used.

I loved reading how women simply poured a large amount of flour into the bowl, made a well for the lard, buttermilk and baking powder and began mixing. By sight and feel, the baker would mix the dough until it was just right for biscuits. Bread was also made in these bowls, and the wood held the heat for the required rise.

My husband’s grandmother had five children, a husband with tuberculosis, and very little money. I am quite sure she constantly made biscuits and bread to fill every stomach. She definitely used the flour sack cloth for sewing. Her frugality was passed down to her daughter and now onto her grandson, my husband. His salvaging of bricks and collecting of seeds shows he learned to “make do” as surely as his grandmother with her wooden biscuit bowl.

“Double, Double”

We have become used to technology becoming obsolete, but the other day I saw my double boiler sitting on a shelf and realized it too had stopped being useful. My double boiler was first used by my grandmother who gave it to my mother who gave it to me. Like many things from years ago, it was built to last and it has.

My mother used it to melt butter which became the base for the white sauce that she used for tuna and chipped beef. She believed knowing how to make white sauce was a prerequisite for marriage, and she taught me how to make it using this pot. The simmering water in the bottom pan heated the content of the upper pan without burning it. She also melted chocolate in the double boiler using it to make our once in a blue moon hot fudge sauce over vanilla ice cream. Chocolate, like butter, burned easily in a single pan, so the double boiler was essential.

Staring at the pot, I realized that my microwave oven had replaced the double boiler for melting butter and chocolate. I never make white sauce any more, so I don’t need to stir the flour into the melted butter at the bottom of the pan. Chipped beef is too salty and tuna in white sauce no longer appeals to me. So the double boiler has become an artifact, perhaps one day to sit on a museum shelf with children wondering about how on earth they used it “back in the old days.”