“Is the Sky Falling?”


By the time the third friend from around the country called on Wednesday to see if we were all right, I finally learned why they were asking. Apparently a “cyclone bomb” had hit the Northeast of the United States, including where we live. I had never heard of a cyclone bomb, nor had I experienced one on Wednesday. Wednesday had been quite windy and it rained a great deal. Nothing had alarmed me, nor had we heard the signal to hide in the basement until a tornado passed.

It turned out that there had been very strong winds in some places, and about 38,000 customers out of one and a half million or so had lost electric power in Connecticut. Many trees had fallen down knocking breaking power lines. Apparently there was also significant wind damage scattered around the Northeast. Of course there are occasional strong windstorms which knock out power and fell trees. So why were my friends so concerned?

For some arcane reason of weather forecasters, this particular event got the specialized name of “cyclone bomb.” That phrase has specific meaning to some scientists. However, it has no such meaning to the general public. Clearly if you take two very charged words, “cyclone” and “bomb,” repeat them frequently on the air and say that a large part of heavily populated areas will be affected, you will scare millions of people. It worked, whether they meant to frighten listeners of not. Hence my worried friends’ phone calls.

Just a head’s up readers. It is bound to snow very heavily for a long time some time this winter. Undoubtedly the wind will blow during this blizzard. However, be wary of terms such as “buried,” “catastrophic,” “unprecedented,” and “crippling.” We are ready and we will shovel and plow and return to regular life in a short time. No need to panic.

“Opening Pandora’s Box”


A popular afternoon television show here used to feature an angry woman and one or two scofflaw men denying fathering a baby. We would get to hear lengthy rants by the woman followed by righteous denials by the men. The camera then would show us the adorable baby waiting back stage to be united with the true father. After endless commercials, the host would open an envelope and announce either “You ARE the father” or “You ARE NOT the father.” The woman would yell, the man run off the stage, the crew would try to calm everyone down, the baby would be brought out and placed in the suddenly eager arms of the real father.” Supposedly all live happily ever after when the show concludes.

Lately a great deal of attention has been paid to the chaos in some families resulting from DNA testing done by one of the family members. Here there is no crew member waiting to calm everyone down. Instead a daughter discovers that her “real” father is someone else. Or a man learns that he isn’t the “real” father of the children he has raised. Or a woman discovers that the sperm from an unknown donor really came from her gynecologist who also impregnated many other women. One woman has sold many copies of her memoir “Inheritance” recounting her life being totally disrupted by such an event.

I think that many times children wish that they had different parents. One of mine yelled at me “I wish I were adopted and you weren’t my real mother.” But I am distressed by the kind of turmoil that happens by learning that things are not as they seemed. What does it mean to have been raised by a man who is now told he isn’t the “real” father? Why this sudden insistence that biology is more important than lived reality?

Perhaps the problem lies more in secrecy. Secrets rarely stay secret forever. And DNA testing has uncovered many secrets. I wish that more people could just acknowledge the toll that secrets can take on families. And I hope that fewer people would take the opportunity to abandon the people who raised them as they go searching for their “real parents.”

“This is the Way We Mend Our Clothes”


Last week I was reading an article describing what a disastrous effect manufacturing of clothing has on the environment. Apparently for many people fashion now dictates that they must constantly buy the newest clothes, wear them for a short time and then discard them. Accordingly, much of this clothing is poorly made, designed to fall apart fairly quickly, needing to be replaced with more up to the minute fashion. The solution proposed by the activists worried about this situation was to buy sturdier clothing and wear it longer.

After I recovered from laughter realizing that I was now in the forefront of an environmental movement (I had always bought sturdy clothing and worn it a long time), I thought of something the article failed to mention at all. Mending clothes! Growing up, everyone I knew had the basic skills to mend clothes. My mother kept an active mending basket near her chair where she did repairs. Seams were resewn, knees reinforced and buttons replaced. My mother darned socks, using a darning egg such as pictured above.

We wore clothes longer using the time honored skill of letting out hems. At that time everything seemed to come with large seam allowances, so that they could be adjusted as children grew. If a dress had been worn long enough to make an obvious line after the hem had been let out, rick rack covered it jauntily. Sleeves went up and down, waists in and out. Clothes lasted through many children. When they were finally totally worn out, garments became cleaning rags.

My title today reflects how common mending once was. Even the nursery rhymes we sang included not only washing and ironing, but also mending. Maybe it has gone the way of fish on Friday. A once ordinary event now needing explanation for the young.


“Table Manners”


Big thanks to Arlene for identifying the use of that little bowl. She not only let me know it is in fact for cream soup. More amazingly, she told me that you are supposed to pick it up by the handles to drink the soup. I have tried in vain to imagine my extremely proper, manner conscious grandmother, owner of the china, picking up anything to drink soup. I now know why she never used these bowls with us. She had spent endless meals trying to enforce a rule against picking up a bowl to drink from it, whether it was the last of the Frosted Flakes or the drips of the melted ice cream. She knew us well enough to imagine our arguments about cream soup versus melted ice cream to get those bowls out of the cupboard.

I remember a while back writing about table manners and getting a reply about which direction one was to move the spoon when eating soup. I have forgotten that rule and happily drink most of my soup out of mugs.

But both the recent post and that one have led me to think about soup in general. Until I was grown I never knew people actually made their own soup. Every soup I ever ate came out of a bright red and white can. The kinds I loved then seem to have disappeared from the shelf, particularly scotch broth and pepper pot. The strong lamb taste in the broth and the chewy tripe in the pepper pot must have repulsed more modern palates so they were replaced by lots of bacon. It’s just as well. The sodium content of canned soup exceeds the limits my blood pressure sets for me.

Well fall has begun. I know how to make delicious soups of my own. Soon the smell of chicken, vegetables and noodles will fill the kitchen. But I still won’t use those little bowls. No cream soup for us. Back into storage they go.

“ Touch of the Old”


A while back I mentioned I would post photos of some of the china I inherited. This little bowl is part of a set from Noritake that must have come from my grandmother. It is a lovely little piece with handles and is maybe four inches across and two inches deep.

I also have so far been unable to identify the pattern. I tried Google Image Search, but that seems to be in a very early stage. It presented me with countless images of bowls, all sizes and shapes. Not helpful.

My mother never used any of these dishes as far as I know, and I am still not sure the intended use of the bowl. I tried to figure out if it is the cream soup bowl discussed on various etiquette sites. Of course that search led me down the rabbit trail of the proper way to eat soup from one of these bowls. If in fact it is a cream soup bowl.

So I have a six fragile bowls with handles lying in wait in my storage cabinet. Perhaps one of my readers can either identify the pattern or clue me into its use. And maybe, even though we don’t eat cream soups, we can at least know more about it.



“King Arthur To The Rescue”

Not only did I stop using Jiffy Corn Muffin mix, I also began to avoid all mixes after noticing how many alien ingredients they used. I continued to bake my own bread, cookies, cakes and bars. Once living in New England, I began to use flour from King Arthur company in Norwich, Vermont. I particularly like their white whole wheat flour which I use in my bread. I had to order it from the mill in Vermont since it wasn’t carried in my local grocery store. Soon I began to receive regular catalogs from King Arthur displaying a wide range of available products.

I bought a number of helpful tools from the catalog including a tablespoon scoop, just right for measuring out cookie dough. I also acquired cookie sheets, sheet pans, an instant read thermometer and cake pans over the years. But I never tried their mixes, despite the abundance of ones they produce. I still had the horror of Jiffy hanging over me, turning me away from mixes.

A couple of years ago we stopped at the King Arthur store in Vermont. Not only do they display all of their products, they also serve wonderful baked goods, salads and soups, just right for a lunch stop. While there, I took a look at various mixes. To my surprise they contained the same ingredients I put in my home baked goods. I would need to add eggs, butter, oil or milk, but everything else was included. I bought a few mixes to try out.

Now I have a couple of boxes of mixes on hand for the last minute demands I encounter. Last weekend we celebrated the 190th anniversary of our church and I needed to bring cookies. I opened the coconut macaroon mix, added water, put scoops of dough on a sheet, baked them and took them to church. Pictured above, you can see the results. No strange additives, just coconut, flour and sugar. No need to run to the store on a crowded day. As I said, King Arthur came to my rescue.


“Who Said It?*”


“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

No. It wasn’t the great and powerful wizard of Oz.

If you pray, please pray for the leaders of the United States. If you don’t pray, please join me in outrage that we are under the direction of someone who actually writes tweets like this.

*Donald Trump, October 7, 2019

“Only In New England”

A few days ago, we went to bed, turned on the window air conditioner and slept soundly as the bedroom cooled off from the day’s heat. Early in the morning my husband heard the furnace kick on. Since the thermostat was set for 56 degrees F, this was surprising. No, the air conditioner hadn’t affected the furnace. Rather, in the night the outside weather had turned from Indian summer to full on fall. The change rapidly cooled the first floor and turned on the heat.

Only here have I ever experienced such dramatic changes in the seasons, but I have to expect it after 18 years of living in New England. Now the window air conditioners need to come out, the storm windows go up, additional weatherstripping applied around any loose windows, the snow shovels found, the ice melt readied and the sweaters retrieved from the downstairs closet. Thankfully my husband attends to all these chores except the clothing rotation. My job is to begin cooking stews, meat loaves, soups, pot roasts and squash. Once the temperature falls, these dishes suddenly seem very appealing after meals of salads and quick chicken recipes.

Snow seems unlikely for at least six more weeks, though we had a massive snow storm a few Halloweens ago which knocked out power for a week. I hope the leaves will fall before the snow starts. I hope the town collects the leaves before snow buries them until next spring. But I have no control over the weather. All I can do is turn off the air conditioner, turn on the furnace and look for the flannel sheets. It’s fall at last.

“No Longer In A Jiffy”


Sometimes I used to bake things that I had never eaten growing up. Corn muffins and corn bread were new to me when I first married. I was introduced to Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and used it regularly. It was simple, tasty and very very quick. I never stopped to think about what the mix contained, assuming that it was pretty basic ingredients like corn meal and flour.

When she was twelve, one of my daughters became a vegetarian after realizing that she couldn’t eat “anything with a face” as she put it. She informed me that Jiffy Corn Mix contained lard, that lard was animal fat, and that she wouldn’t eat it any more. Glancing at the familiar package, I realized that it not only contained lard but also a bunch of unpronounceable ingredients. By then I had decided to no longer eat ingredients I couldn’t identify, so the mix was out for the rest of us too.

Fortunately at about the same time an entrepreneur called Bob started a local milling operation as a response to the consumer demand for more whole grain products. We drove over to his place and was given tour by Bob himself, a genial man with a passion for whole grains. We bought a bag of ground whole grain cornmeal and I found a simple recipe for corn bread. We liked the crunch that the whole grain gave, the batter was free of lard, and I could identify all the ingredients. It took 5 minutes longer to make, but it was worth it.

In the years since then, Bob grew his business exponentially. Now sold across the United States as “Bob’s Red Mill” it offers every kind of grain and flour imaginable. I count myself lucky to have met Bob when he was just starting out, able to tour the mill with us, and introduce me to a newly favorite ingredient–whole grain ground cornmeal.

“Feeding Herman”


My husband love sourdough bread, so I was intrigued by a long article in the food section of yesterday’s New York Times. A lovely photo of two loaves of sourdough was followed by step by step instructions to make it. The instructions went on over three pages. At this point I realized I could have walked to our Whole Foods Market (not a short walk), bought his favorite bread, brought it home and he could have consumed it during the time it would have taken to make their “simple” loaf. So there will be no sourdough baked here any time soon.

I was reminded, however, of Herman, a gift that circulated endlessly among my friends in the 1970’s. Herman was a starter contained in a glass jar with instructions on his feeding and use. Containing just milk, flour, sugar and water, Herman grew with each feeding, producing the concoction pictured above. I used it to make coffee cake and was then supposed to pass on the extra to a friend.

What did zucchini and Herman have in common in rural Oregon in the 1970’s? Everyone I knew had too many of each. Of course it was horrifying to throw out either, so I am sure that we found ways to bake zucchini bread with the starter Herman. And we kept asking each other if anyone needed Herman or zucchini. No one ever did.

Herman must have eventually died. I don’t remember any ceremony for him. But I do remember the initial joy of receiving him as a gift followed by the nagging sense that I needed to both feed him on schedule and find a friend to gift with the excess.

Does anyone else remember those days?