“From Scratch”

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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.”

“Mnemonic”

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I remember being taught to play the piano and being supplied with two mnemonic devices. The lines on the staff for the right hand could be remembered by Every Good Boy Does Fine(e,g,b,d,f). The white spaces spelled out FACE(f,a,c,e). I still call that tip to mind when I look at a new hymn on Sunday. Mnemonics exist to help our struggling memories over commonly forgotten facts.

A couple of tips in school have stayed with me for sixty years. The difference between principle and principal is that the principal can be your PAL. Desert and dessert have different numbers of the letter “s” because you only want to cross a desert once but you will always want two desserts. Most repeated, despite the handy feature of spell check, is “i before e except after c or sounded like a in neighbor or weigh.”

Theoretically names can be brought to mind more easily by inventing a personalized mnemonic. The idea is to take a person’s characteristic and link it to the person’s name. This has never worked for me, probably because I start laughing thinking up the trick. Let’s see: “he is a real pill and his name is Bill.” Not a good plan. However I am able to remember a man’s name I see every Sunday although I always start down the wrong path with it. His name is Angelo, but I keep thinking it is Anthony. A nearby restaurant is called Angelo’s, and now I struggle to think of the name of the place and then can think of his. Not a very quick trick for sure.

I would love to know any other mnemonics that my readers learned or still use. Until then, “a pint’s a pound the whole world round.”

“Berry Delicious”


As you can see in this photo of me in 1949, I have always loved raspberries. We have a thicket of raspberry plants next to the garage, and the photo on the right shows the most recent picking of ripe berries. Our vines produce two crops each summer, and the crops are bigger every other year. This year is a bountiful one. The early summer taste good, these late ones taste even better.

Raspberries don’t ship very well. They are fragile, spoil quickly, and yield their juice at the slightest pressure. The ones sold in grocery stores must be a special variety, bred for their ability to stand travel, so they are firmer and much less sweet. Even ours will begin to go bad by the next day, providing an ready excuse to devour them quickly. They are excellent stirred into a batch of Greek yogurt with a little granola thrown in if desired.

I have written before about how lovely it was to walk around my old neighborhood in what had been an Italian part of Portland, Oregon. My daughter and I would pick figs, pears, apples, plums and blackberries which were abundant in the area. I haven’t seen any local figs here, so they probably need a warmer climate. As you can tell from my posts, I am loving the height of summer and the abundance of fruit. Soon apples will fill the farm stands, a clear sign that autumn has begun in New England.

“Just Lookin’ For a Home”

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Well equipped to protect himself from the skunk, my husband crept up on the trap, threw a sheet over it, and opened the latch. Then he waited. And waited. And waited. Tired of waiting, he propped open the trap door with several (salvaged) bricks and called it a night. Apparently the skunk had become used to his new quarters and was in no hurry to leave.

By the next morning the skunk had wandered off, having determined that no more broccoli was going to magically appear in the strange wire home he had so recently discovered. And so another wildlife saga comes to a denouement on Broad Street. Guess my husband will get to return to one of his favorite August pastimes–eating the peach crisp I just made him.

Speaking of peach crisps, I recently spent some time with my New England baking cookbook and found that in addition to peach crisp I could also make peach buckle, peach slump, peach cobbler and peach grunt. Apparently those cooks had to keep coming up with various ways to deal with the surplus of peaches that arrive at the end of summer. But I am sticking with the famous peach blueberry pie I mentioned earlier and the very simple peach crisp currently sitting on the kitchen counter.

I hope the woodchuck relocates himself. I hesitate to find out “what evil lurks in the heart” of my back yard waiting to walk into that trap.

“A Woodchuck With Stripes?”

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Well the Hav-a-Heart trap, baited with broccoli, failed to catch the wily woodchuck. Instead, a skunk wandered in for the food and is now pacing back and forth. My husband, who once before released a skunk from the same trap, is trying to remember exactly how he did it without getting sprayed. Somewhere close by I assume a woodchuck is having a good laugh. (I would call it a chuckle if that wasn’t so corny.)

It’s beginning to look like we live in a dangerous place: spiders, tornadoes and now skunks. So much for my attempt to paint our backyard as a quiet retreat!

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

A few days ago my husband came into the living room to startle my grandkids and me with a terrifying tale. He had been out moving some bricks along the walkway(he the champion of salvaged bricks!) and after turning one over confronted the largest spider he had ever seen. Putting the brick back down, he went on gardening. Suddenly the spider leaped(literally) onto his hand, ran(literally) up his arm and around to the back of his neck. He was able to shake it off before it could think about biting him.

Listening to his account, my grandkids immediately yelled in unison WOLF SPIDER and began to squeal, shriek and generally show their terror/delight at the encounter. They had spoken about wolf spiders to me before, but I had dismissed the discussion as exaggeration on their part. After a family search of Google, we determined that it was indeed a wolf spider. They don’t spin but catch their prey by running and jumping onto it. The sting apparently is dangerous only to the elderly and children(thus a threat to all of us reading the information.)

These creatures have eight eyes, hairy skins, two extra legs in from by their mouth and a face that does indeed resemble a wolf. The kids really wanted to see one and really didn’t want to see one, proving more ambivalent than I am. I had no idea that such menaces lived in our back yard and have no desire to encounter one myself. I had lived blissfully ignorant that running, jumping spiders lived in Connecticut. It will be hard to return to my happy oblivion!